Mark Eaton outlines some of the simple steps you can take to ensure you are ready to keep rewarding in a recession.
It's realistic that employers need to be prudent and take some tough decisions in the current recession and ongoing economic uncertainty. Yet, there's much employers can do to galvanise their people and use employee benefits to engage and motivate their workforce to successfully navigate the business through these tough times. 1. Carefully time any changes to your benefits offeringPicking the right time for your people and your business is critical if you need to make changes to your benefits portfolio. If you're part way through redundancies or are making contractual changes, for example, you should wait until the dust has settled before implementing any changes. 2. Revisit what you want your benefits to achieveDo you have a clear objective of what benefits' 'success' looks like in this new trading environment? Do you need to realign benefits with your business culture and strategy? How has your workforce changed as the result of, for example, redundancy? Without these objectives in place you won't be able to measure and monitor your progress. 3. Ask your people what benefits they really wantBy consulting with employees and asking them about the benefits they value and want to see you might even be able to cut costs by removing benefits that are not valued or replace them with something more appropriate. "Consider segmenting key employee groups and plan individual communications for each one."A note of caution, though! There is every chance you will heighten employees' expectations of employee benefits by consulting with them in this way. You may also see a marked increase in core benefit take-up as employees are reminded about the benefits that they have access to. To accommodate this make sure you have the capacity and processes in place to manage a swift up-turn in demand and make sure you schedule time to follow up with employees on their feedback; you need to seize on this opportunity to demonstrate that you're listening to your people. 4. Select your suppliers with careWhen considering new benefits or revising your portfolio, look at suppliers with relevant experience in your industry sector. Do you share the same values and can you review their track record of success? 5. Establish clear supplier agreementsTo cover issues such as what happens if the service fails, how service issues will be resolved and the extent to which the available benefits provide value for money. The answers to these questions will breed confidence among your people that the solutions work and help to create a positive working relationship. 6. Make communication an ongoing activityVariety, creativity and imagination are essential when it comes to communicating benefits. Good communication, if managed properly, can improve morale and act as a benchmark on the success of your benefits' offering. Consider segmenting key employee groups and plan individual communications for each one, for example, childcare vouchers to working parents. 7. Ask for employee feedbackRegularly talk with your people about what's good, what's missing and what could be improved when it comes to rewards and benefits. Conduct regular reviews and be proactive when it comes to seeking their feedback, particularly when you know it might not always be positive. 8. And take action on what you hearAs important as asking for employee feedback is letting your staff know their feedback is being taken seriously and demonstrate to them how their feedback has made changes happen for the better. 9. Adopt a long-term viewThe most successful benefits packages are invariably 'slow burners' and success is likely to take even longer against the backdrop of recession. Be realistic about the take up you can expect of individual products and solutions and take time out to consider how you can improve employee awareness, understanding and action when it comes to benefits. A comprehensive and sustained communications programme, for example, will help to ensure employees are aware of and understand the benefits available to them. "Be realistic about the take up you can expect of individual products and solutions"10. Keep your benefits freshConstantly search for ways to innovate and reinvent your benefits offerings, for example, by making benefits' reviews a regular date on the company calendar and by consulting with different employee groups and levels of management. Benefits are a constantly changing market, particularly against the background of economic uncertainty, so you need to accommodate this in your plans to stay ahead of the game. Ultimately, the recession is a great opportunity for employers to drive home the message of what they do for their people. After all, business needs to go on and it's the successful companies, those that take positive action when it comes to employee benefits that will certainly reap the rewards when recovery starts.
Mark Eaton is director at Personal Group