There are five employee benefits that should be protected during down times, and they have one thing in common: personal accountability.
These benefits use company resources to provide long-term advantages to both the organization and the employee – but only if the employee is willing to meet the organizational investment with his or her own efforts.
An economic downturn is a good time for all of us to become more fluent in the competency of personal accountability, and the organization can help shape this experience for all employees.
1. Health care benefits
Health care benefit packages are often a first focus of employer-initiated cuts in a recession due to the tremendous increases in premium rates over the past years. Many companies have faced annual increases up to 30% each year. But cutting health care benefits should truly be a last resort.
Access to appropriate health care is a highly regarded benefit by employees, oftentimes the primary reason that employees are staying with their current employer. Changes in health benefit packages can lead to the loss of key talent. Another unanticipated consequence for the employee is an increased chance of bankruptcy due to uncovered health care costs.
It's estimated that up to 75% of personal bankruptcy cases were instigated by the inability to pay for major medical episodes. While not only adding stress and wreaking havoc in the lives of your employees, in many industries, bankruptcies can affect their ability to be bonded or insured to perform key functions of their jobs. Employees under financial duress will also increase the risk of fraud and other money-seeking behaviors.
2. Wellness programs and fitness facilities
It's vital to provide avenues through which employees can maintain their fitness and wellness regardless of the economy's current health status. Fitness programs offer important stress relief along with long-term impact to an organization's vitality and health care costs. Sending the message that one's wellness is optional depending upon the availability of resources will detract significantly from the years of messaging organizations have put forth regarding the importance of the prevention of chronic disease through fitness programs.
3. Employee assistance programs
Employee assistance programs can help employees and their families navigate through personal issues ranging from marriage difficulties to financial insolvency. These programs are an important part of keeping managers focused on running the business and not spending a great amount of time and resources coaching employees on personal issues. The manager can make a referral to the EAP, be assured that the employee is receiving professional guidance, and return to the business of turning talent into productivity.
4. Employee development opportunities
The demands on the organization's workforce increase during times of recession, and employees often are asked to do more with fewer resources. Remember that 75% of employee development comes as a result of on-the-job experiences, as opposed to training classes, that are supported through education, coaching, feedback and mentoring. Make the most of these new challenges for your employees by turning them into development opportunities.
Support managers and employees by teaching them to create individualized development plans that outline the new assignments and identify the additional support that will ensure the success of the employee. Implement mentoring programs that match veterans in the organization with employees who are meeting some of the challenges and assignments for the first time.
Offer membership in online coaching/development communities such as thegurunation.com to your employees. Such memberships give them access to great content, material, podcasts, training sessions, mentors and coaches 24 hours a day at a nominal monthly membership fee.
Reward them for taking on the challenge of development and reinforce the employee's positive growth. Enlist successful and developing employees in the coaching and teaching of other employees as they are tapped to take on greater challenges.
5. Employee retreats and all-hands meetings
Intuitively, employers begin to cut back on retreats and meetings that involve travel and expense to bring people together face to face to receive important information regarding the company and to connect with teammates. Because the results of enhanced teambuilding and increased buy-in and alignment to the company vision can be difficult to measure and prove, the importance of these activities is often discounted. Big mistake!
Many leaders over manage and under lead in stressful times – focusing on the increased complexity in the business rather than on the important leadership function of capturing the hearts and minds of their people. Disengagement comes when outstanding performance is not recognized and up to 60% of the employees are left to decide on their own whether to "join up" or engage during tough times.
To ensure engagement when you need to protect it the most, continue the investment in employee retreats and all-hands meetings. These events are times to capture buy-in and engagement, communicate a clear and compelling vision, develop teams and ensure that all are aligned with the direction of the organization. The impact on morale, motivation and alignment in day-to-day decision making from such events is tremendous.
Create a competitive advantage: Add benefits
Rather than responding with an attitude of "scarcity" during tough times, organizations can reframe their viewpoint and instead use a time of recession to their advantage when competing for talent. Instead of focusing on what to cut or not to cut, consider the potential return on investment from enhancing benefits that could attract key talent from other organizations. A recession could be a time to strengthen an organization's employee brand as one that values talent above all else.
Consider the following low-cost ways to bring additional benefits to employees who need the most support during tough times.
Develop work-at-home programs.
Take this opportunity to get serious about a work-at-home option for employees. Resist the urge to see all of the potential disadvantages of having less oversight and focus on using the program to reward highly responsible employees.
Turn to your best and brightest employees to provide you with ideas about which positions could work from home completely or as an added benefit part of the workweek. They know the jobs best and can outline both how to make it happen and how to best manage the risks involved.
Even offering productive employees one day a week to work from home is equal to offering them a substantial raise (the money they save from their commute) and even more importantly, a promotion in that they can self manage, have freedom to organize their work as they see fit, and be trusted at a new level in their position. A work-from-home option can be a key recruiting tool to attract great talent away from less flexible competitors.
Increase development opportunities at the workplace.
Get creative and actually increase the number of training and development experiences in the workplace. Work together with other organizations that are also short on training dollars to share the cost of bringing in top speakers. Offer a session with the speaker to nonprofit organizations, inviting them into your organization and benefit from the potential tax write-off of the donation to offset the speaker's fee. Use the talent on your staff.
Tap into the financial acumen of the people in your accounting division to offer programs on personal financial best practices. Increase the size of your lending library and have the HR generalists lead book club sessions in the business units. The HR generalists will benefit by enhancing their business acumen and the business unit participants will increase their knowledge of leadership topics through the interaction.
Pass them on . . . the benefits, that is.
Inventory the many benefits received by your senior leadership and executive team in response to memberships in organizations and from their roles in the community. What may seem like minor benefits to the executives – and which often go unused – will be highly valued by your employees.
For instance, tickets to sporting events, invitations to golf tournaments, even invites to celebrations or festivals can be collected, organized and passed on to employees through giveaways, drawings, recognition for outstanding performance or on a rotational basis.
Many country club memberships offer benefits to guest players that can be passed on to employees. In one company alone, we were able to collect over 100 occasions for employees to attend free events – opportunities that had already been paid for or received by executives that would have otherwise gone unused.
Enhance employee knowledge of the current benefit package
Educate your employees to ensure they're taking full advantage of the benefits they currently have. Many employees are not using all their benefits – such as pre-tax savings accounts – to their advantage. By re-educating employees, they may choose to use their benefits differently given the changing circumstances they may find themselves in.
Provide personal consultants to make sure that employees are getting the most from their current benefits. The HR consultants also benefit as they leave these meetings with a greater sense of which benefits are most valued by the employees.
Implement cafeteria-style benefits
If you must make some tough choices on the benefits and/or benefits that your organization can offer, give the power of choice to the employees. Find ways in which to personalize the benefit packages through the use of "cafeteria-style" benefit packages. Employees receive a dollar value or maximum value that they can spend and a series of options from which they can choose.
This affords an employee the freedom to use their benefit dollars to the best advantage for themselves and their families, adjusting to their current situation and current needs. This technique can soften the blow of benefit cuts as it allows for personal choice. – E.B.N.
Author Cynthia "Cy" Wakeman is a speaker, workshop facilitator and trainer who helps individuals and organizations recreate their mindsets so they can achieve positive results and resolve long-standing issues. For more information, visit www.cywakeman.com.
If you have already registered to Benefit News, please use the form below to login. When completed you will immediately be directed to post a comment.
You must be registered to post a comment. Click here to register.