I picked a survey online at random that supposes to know what the employee benefits are that are most appreciated by, you know, employees. According to that survey, the top five were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. If that’s accurate, that’s good to know, but of course being a survey, it’s aggregated and averaged and, at best, indicative. We talk a lot about ‘employee fit’ these days in building teams and driving employee engagement. Fit applies in a lot of situations and benefit offerings should be one of those. Just because you think something is an incentive for you doesn’t mean everyone, or possibly anyone, else does.
I, for example, would include in my top five, support for and contributions to, my personal and professional development. That might include directly paying for or subsidising training, as well as time off or time flexibility to attend lectures. That has always been and will always be major for me. If that previous survey is to be believed, I’m in the minority. I was coaching a senior manager recently. Afterwards, they negotiated a benefit with their employer that effectively set them on a low-risk path to being able to work on their own quite separate business whilst remaining employed – win:win. That is not a common benefit yet made a major positive difference for both parties.
I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s mailing list. He has a micro-podcast called ‘The PinkCast’. (At some point, I am going to work out how my boring name can be twisted into some kind of pun-based witty publication name. How about ‘Conspiracy Terry’? Yeah nah). In a recent episode of ‘The PinkCast’, Dan tackled one of the critical issues of the day – how best to choose what gift to give to people for Christmas. It seems most people imagine the best gift to give would be a uniquely tailored surprise that captures the essence of the person to whom you are giving it. It showed that most people thought that asking people what they wanted or, horror of horrors, giving them cash or vouchers would be perceived as lazy, insensitive and insulting. Perhaps surprisingly, when questioned further about the reality of having received novel, high-effort gifts, very few ever hit the mark. And, shock of shocks, in retrospect, most people most of the time would’ve preferred to have been given the gift of choice and flexibility via being asked what they wanted or the cash or vouchers.
Personally, I like to hedge my bets and try to use both techniques. The big swing for the ‘wow’ gift doesn’t pay off often but when it does, it knocks it out of the park. After watching the video, I reflected on my own gift receiving experiences. I could recall three over my moderately lengthy life that even the memory of still chokes me up a bit.
Let’s slide this gifting thinking back to our topic of employee benefits. They’re not gifts. They’re not entitlements. They’re part of a remuneration package with some elements possibly at risk. Not everyone is so high up the food chain, nor confident enough or special enough to negotiate an array of shiny benefits into their contract at the point of employment. Let’s go back to first principles – what is the point? What are we trying to achieve or support via the mechanism of whatever form of employee benefit? It’s that whole attraction, retention, engagement, loyalty, morale thing, right?
That top five from that original were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. On average, you’ll hit most people’s hot buttons most of the time with those. But how can we fashion into our processes some means of capturing outlying benefit possibilities? How might my own desire for personal development support as an employee benefit for me have been captured? As a young person starting out, even if a genuinely altruistic employer had asked me, I might not even have known myself at that stage.
How about a menu like at a restaurant? (And, by ‘restaurant’, I mean one with a drive-through). A simple-to-read-at-a-glance listing of the employee benefit options that most people choose in descending order of popularity. You could choose to combo some perhaps. You might cash in others. There might still be the option to make them your way off-menu.
Employees don’t know what they don’t know and neither do employers, so diminishing those blind spots around what particular individual employees value in a benefit would be valuable. Asking people is fine but not exhaustive. Asking individuals is better but not exhaustive. Having some flexibility at various points to review and introduce new offerings seems smart.
If you hire someone and tell them their pay is $20 an hour but in three months it’ll be $22.50, when you ask them when they want to start, don’t be surprised when they reply, “In three months”.
Video series: www.brainbasedboss.com
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
I guess the saying “one person’s meat is another’s poison” dates back to Shakespearian times where both meat and poison were daily occurences in workplaces? (Possibly simultaneously? Spoiler alert.) I had to make it “person” instead of “man” so it dates back a couple of decades anyway. What I’m trying to say is that what appeals to some doesn’t sppeal to all. Chocolate fish aren’t for everyone but to me they’re the universal symbol of incentives. If there is a continuum with carrots and sticks, chocolate fish are way out beyond carrots. That’s just me. You might be more into sticks. Freak.
Employers (and tax lawyers) seem to think of reward and remuneration mainly in terms of money or cars or trips to Fiji. The whole raison detre of pay and bonuses and incentives is to drive, direct and / or curtail behaviours – carrots and sticks. At a biological level within human beings’ very bodies, human systems have had a range of microscopic rewards being granted and denied all the time for millennia that are incredibly powerful in driving and restraining our behaviour. Have you tried giving up sugar or even cutting down? Good luck. The chemistry rewards behind that are way more effective than reimbursing costs of study after proof of passing the course. Salaries and bonuses are great but we love that dopamine buzz when we check our email or FaceBook page.
I’m not suggesting we should be offering drugs to employees as a reward for performance (although that would make a great sci-fi screenplay.)
I have a manufacturing / sales client who are offering a major prize for all staff if targets are met. It’s value per person is around three thousand dollars. There’s a big colour-in thermometer graphic on the wall indicating progress towards target against time. Six months into the year, they are at 50.3% towards traget. Sound great? Sound effective? I should probably add the bit I’ve missed out. Everyone gets the prize if the target is met but, if even one department fails to meet their own individual target, then no one gets the prize. When I first heard that, I thought, “OK, there’s a couple of ways this could turn out…”
Last week a colleague was telling me of his friend who’d bought a rural property and was thinking about quitting the day job, leaving the commute behind and working from home. But she loved the work, liked the people and seemed to have some loyalty stored up to her employer. Then, last Christmas they had their usual staff gathering at the local tavern and, maybe, it seemed like their was a little less food and drink. Everyone got an envelope and inside everyone’s envelope was a single movie ticket. Not a double pass. Not a gold class ticket. A single general admission. Technically I guess that could be classified, at least for tax purposes, as an incentive. I don’t think it literally was an incentive – probably the opposite. It certainly removed any lingering doubts she had about her giving up the day job and it certainly soaked up her residual loyalty far more effectively than it could have soaked up spilled beer on the bar if she’d left it there and stormed out. Me, I didn’t even realise they still had paper movie coupons.
Remuneration is relative. The nature of people makes it so. Our perception of the absolute value of what we receive is impacted greatly by our perception of what we believe others are receiving. In studies where subjects have been offered the choice of a situation where they’re earning $60,000 while their peers are earning 70,000 or a situation where they’re earning $50,000 while their peers are earning $40,000, a significant majority prefer the latter. More people would rather earn less as long as they were relatively better off than the people with whom they associated.
At an HR conference I MC’d, a speaker talked of a group of scientists. They were in high demand and were sitting targets to be poached by high-paying, prestigious overseas employers. They’d like to stay here but money is quite magnetic (figuratively not literally – although I wonder if magnetic coins might be a cool thing for tourists at least.) It certainly wasn’t the sole attempted solution but one thing they tried was gamification. Or, as this speaker put it, scout badges. They created a matrix, effectively a skill matrix. As the scientists demonstrated competence in a range of pre-agreed skills, ranging from the technical and specific to leadership and customer service. (“That’s not science!”, I imagine them saying, but my impression of scientists is heavily influenced by TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory.’)
I didn’t think that was gamification. I thought gamification was the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ sense of self-contribution. The scout badges seem more like FlyBuys but without any chance of getting a new toasted sandwich maker out of it. I’m not disrespecting the badges idea. They reported it was well received and effective. I think they might work as part of a portfolio of ideas because they leverage an age-old need that people have. It’s another word beginning with “re” that isn’t reward or remuneration. It also isn’t retirement, although that might loom as an incentive for some. Certainly it did for my 5th form history teacher Mr O’Leary who at the start of each lesson would inform us exactly how many days he had left until retirement. I think that’s OK when you’re a cop, you’ve just taken on a young and reckless partner, a case that isn’t what it seems lands on your desk and you’re two days from retirement. The word is recognition.
Getting paid with money means we have to endure dealing with banks. What are some innovative alternatives to stone-cold cash?
One of the problems with most remuneration is that it comes in the form of money and that means you have to deal with banks.
I was late home thanks to the traffic. Why do they call it rush hour when you can’t? I needed to ring my bank. I said, “I’m going to ring the bank. Be supportive.” Her lips said “no” but her eyes said, “Read my lips.” So I went ahead alone. I managed to get my son off the internet so I could connect the phone. “We didn’t have the internet in my day, or any of your fancy Playstation 3s.”
Back came his retort, “What did you have Dad? Playstation ZERO?” I’d ban him from using the internet but we need the money from his illicit trade in black market knitting patterns.
The TV news in the background told me that a man in Birkenhead was struck by lightning. I ignored the omen and dialled the bank’s 0800 number. 0800 is better than 0900. The TV news runs those 0900 viewer polls. The poll last night had a ‘yes’ vote of seventy eight percent and a ‘no’ vote of twenty percent. Two percent were ‘don’t know.’ These calls are $1.99 a minute! Who rings up and pays $1.99 a minute to vote ‘don’t know’? I am not that proud of my ignorance.
I had to wait a while. Not so much ‘on-line’ banking, as ‘in-line’ banking. I thought back to a customer service conference I attended recently. The keynote speaker must have been good because, well, he was American and had a book published. He wore a black suit with a black tee-shirt and a hairstyle that looked as if it was descended from one of the guys from Crosby, Stills and Nash (but not Young.) He said that banks had their software, not to improve customer service for all customers, but to identify the top value customers and suck up to them. The middling customers would get what they paid for. The bottom non-profitable twenty percent would be actively driven away to their competitors, or better still to a Government-subsidised banking alternative, if only such a thing existed. You can tell your place in this modern food chain by how you are treated by the queuing software. If you want them to answer the phone quicker, don’t complain, give them more of your business. (Remember, whenever you withdraw money from an ATM, say thank you. Those things have cameras…)
Anyways – I spoke to a call centre rep. She empathised proactively. I felt the love. However, she was unable to assist me. I would need to speak with my personal banker. Ooh. I had a personal banker. All I needed was a personal trainer, a personal shopper and a personal lubricant and I could complete the set. She couldn’t put me through to my personal banker. I would have to ring my branch. I rang my branch. The first person would have loved to have helped me but he reiterated that I would have to speak to my personal banker. Ah-ha. I was ahead of him there. I knew that but I did not know who my personal banker was. He told me not to worry. He would look it up, but right now their system was ‘down.’ I knew how it felt. He looked up my personal banker. It turned out to be him. He felt bad and sent me flowers as an apology. I’m allergic. So are my kids.
Maybe there’ll be a Playstation 4 game called ‘Personal Banker’? I hope it’s one of those really violent ones. It will be when I’m finished with it.
Apparently only four percent of the New Zealand money supply is actually paper or metal cash and coins. The rest is electronic pixie dust that only has any value at all because we collectively believe in it. Have a read of the Peter Pan story. Tinkerbell’s existence was threatened because people started to believe less in fairies. So what, if not money, could we collectively choose to believe in? What might remuneration become?
Roman legionnaires used to be paid in salt. The word salary comes from the Latin for salt (but you already knew that.) Pay me in salt, fat and sugar and that’s pretty much two-thirds of what I spend my money on anyway. A lot of people buy things using loyalty scheme points. If you’re looking for a card that accumulates points quickly, I can recommend my driver’s licence.