There's no one size fits all for employee retention and benefits

Whilst working within organisations, one of the areas that I often come across is employee retention. Many companies look at it as the provision of benefits and do not engage with their staff to understand what they value or need.

It’s really important for every company to clearly define why they want to introduce a new benefit and what their goal is. Most companies look at benefits provision to decrease staff turnover or to attract talent. There are other reasons but let’s focus on these, as they are definitely the ones I’ve come across most often.

The good news is that retention doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money on wonderful benefits. It often starts with understanding what your teams value and what they would like from their perspective. Some benefits don’t even involve spending any money! Indeed, flexible working and remote working are becoming increasingly popular and are two such examples.

Let’s see below how you can implement the right solutions for your teams so you get the most out the initiative.

1. Understanding what employees want

Thinking about the variety of people that you have within your business, is it really possible to know which benefits they want without talking to them? The answer is: probably not.

One of the ways I normally tackle employee benefits is to understand what kind of key employees the business wants to keep or attract. It’s useful for example to get a good cross section of high performers in a room and talk to them about the benefits they want. You’ll want to make sure that these individuals are representative of your staff population and that their level of expectations is set in terms of what is achievable or not. And it’s probably not a good idea to tell them that they are in the room because they are key to your business as if they share this information outside of the room, you’ll be doing damage control with the rest of your employees who haven’t been selected.

Once you have gathered relevant ideas, you can start costing all of the options.

You can either make a decision or take another step, such as running a staff survey of the benefits that are considered as achievable by the business. It creates a nice buzz around the initiative and also lets you collect wider data to focus the plan. If you observe trends within departments or roles, nothing stops you digging into the data and implementing what is relevant for each category of employee or department.

Whatever you do, make sure that you communicate clearly on process and progress throughout to manage expectations.

Once implemented, make sure that your employees are aware of the benefits that you’re providing and that they remain aware months and years down the line. Many organisations don’t do enough on this front resulting in money being wasted on benefits that no one is aware of!

2. Which benefits could we look at?

Again, this very much depends on the employees that you have. Another major factor is the company culture and the dynamics between your teams. To keep things in perspective, I’ve have come across organisations with fantastic benefits but where the culture and work environments were making people leave. For organisations looking to introduce benefits to decrease turnover and attract talent, these factors should be looked at in priority. But let’s leave this topic for another article for now. For some ideas of valuable benefits, I’ve split employees into some categories below.

Senior Managers - These individuals will typically be your Heads of Departments or Department Directors. They have a crucial leadership role to play for your organisation’s success. Making sure that their basic salary and bonus are in line with market, that they have good family healthcare and dental care options available and stock options are also well appreciated.

Experts – These are typically positions like research and development, technology and similar areas which are extremely important to the strategic course of an organisation. Although people in these roles do not have managerial responsibilities, they are of a similar level and are often supervising themselves within their own area of expertise. They are skilful and often unique within businesses, which is what makes them highly valuable. Should they leave, no one else would be able to pick up what they do as well as they do it. A good compensation package, visibility on career development opportunities and the provision of training can also prove successful to help them get more job satisfaction although they often do this on their own anyway. Benefits really depend on who these experts are. I often come across requests for gym memberships, ride to work schemes, childcare vouchers, fruits or drinks available in the office, more fun staff recreational equipment, flexible and remote working.

Middle managers – They are crucial when it comes to implementing the company strategy as they are the line managers of the employees delivering on the plan. The performance of the organisation rests for a major part on their leadership skills and the performance they achieve through their teams. They are however often overlooked in terms of development especially when they’re in an organisation without a managerial training program in place. Often, getting into a management role is seen as an accomplishment and recognition for past performance. They get a pay rise, so what more could they want?
Middle Managers often value training and coaching in their role to help them broaden their skills. In my experience, they’ve often been interested in similar benefits to experts. The environment is a major contributor to their success in their role, so ensuring that the right communication channels and cross-functional projects are made available for them to contribute and grow effectively, is key.

Front line staff – these are the employees who have a direct impact on your customers’ experience with your business. They can be customer service agents, production operators, carers, shop assistants, cashiers, etc. They directly deliver what your customer is paying for. These roles are often under-valued in many organisations as they are low paid, aren’t creative and often candidates are easy to source. Compensation is often the biggest retention factor for people in these roles as, because their income is low, they may need to be on the lookout for better prospects elsewhere to raise their living standards. Compensation that is competitive with the market is extremely important. Taking a wider approach to salary benchmarking by looking at roles that they may be able to just walk into with their level of qualification or skills may be useful. Bonuses are often well received by front-line staff; and measuring performance to allocate them fairly and objectively is good practice if you don’t want to deal with fallouts when payslips come through. And yes, they will compare and share this information!

Key talents - There are employees who are potential contenders for key existing roles or indeed future roles within your organisation. Ideally, they should always be identified and provided with the experience and training necessary to move to a relevant key role as soon as it becomes available. Their manager or a mentor should have a plan for their career development. Recognition of their importance should be done, subtly sometimes, in order to manage their expecations.

Contractors – Whilst they are not employees, they are still extremely important to a company’s ability to deliver and its overall success, especially in organisations who regularly uses contractors for whatever reasons. They are often overlooked and expected to get on with work with minimal supervision (especially as this is legally preferable to avoid blurring the lines with what constitutes employment). Their biggest drivers are often the reputation of your organisation as well as their daily rate. Recognising the value that they bring to your organisation and visibility on future work can be a good retention strategy.

As we’ve seen, there is no one size fits all for retention strategies and employee benefits. Many factors have to be taken into account whether these have to do with the employees themselves or your organisation as a whole and its culture. If you’re set to improve your staff turnover or attract more employees you need to find the right mix of what will make your employees choose to stay with you or come and work for you. As with most things in business, openness and transparency can help you achieve just that.

Unsplashed background img 2