Match Perks to People to Increase Performance

Match Perks to People to Increase Performance

November 1, 2014

The perks employees want varies depending on age and gender. Who wants what may surprise you.

Now that hiring is picking up it’s time to re-evaluate your talent strategy, likely designed in the days when employers had an overabundance of supply. According to Pew Research Center, starting in 2011 and continuing for 19 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers a day in the U.S. will turn 65, and the much smaller Gen X population is not big enough to fill their shoes. Attracting and retaining the best of talent through responding to their unique needs and requirements is one big step in having the talent you need for the future.

Do women want things different than men? Are generational needs different? At work, the answer is complicated. There are significant differences by gender and age in what both job candidates and existing employees expect, according to Success Factors’ international survey, “2012 HR Beat: A Survey of the Pulse of Today’s Global Workforce”. The results, from more than 1,500 HR professionals, identify what matters most to employees and job candidates across age, geography and gender.

Although Millennials, born after 1977, get the rap of being solely focused on themselves — the “Me Generation” — they are not the only ones who ask for more benefits or more salary during the recruitment stage, or once they have been employed. Here’s how the numbers break down, and what employees are asking for:

Flexibility and upgraded benefits as important as pay

  • 87% of job candidates ask for benefits beyond their offer
  • 57% ask for higher pay
  • 56% ask for flexible work hours
  • 40% ask for training
  • 82% of employees ask for additional job benefits
  • 47% ask for flexible work hours
  • 36% ask for promotions
  • 49% for upgraded job perks including time off for volunteering (16%), free massage (8%), laundry (8%)

This is a not just a trend in North America. Around the world, 73% of companies have granted additional flexibility in work schedules. The biggest, most pronounced differences noted in the survey were found between the generations.

Gen X is most demanding

Millennials (younger than 33 years old in 2014)
40% of candidates request training
42% of employees request mentors

Gen X (between 33-55 years old in 2014)
36% of candidates request higher pay
44% of employees request promotions

Baby Boomers (more than 55 years old in 2014)
3% of candidates request higher pay
2% of employees request a non-scheduled bonus

The next biggest difference in the survey was that between men and women. Proving to be true around the world, women want flexibility while men want money.

Women and men prioritize benefits differently

Female employees are more likely to ask for
51% reduced work hours
50% flexible work hours
40% flexible work location

Male employees are more likely to ask for
39% a promotion
36% an off cycle raise
33% non-scheduled bonus

Female job candidates are more likely to ask for
50% flexible working hours
30% more vacation time
26% job perks

Male job candidates are more likely to ask for
45% higher pay
45% hiring bonus
39% higher job title

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What this all means is that you should evaluate your benefits and build a talent strategy to match. Since Millennials want training and mentoring, do you have an attractive story to tell them? What choices do you have for working remotely or with flexible schedules to attract the women, and men, who ask for those benefits?

There are a myriad of perks and benefits to choose from, and there are also organizations that refute that perks impact either retention or engagement. A new benefit that is attracting a lot of attention is unlimited vacation, and the results to date indicate that it is positively impacting productivity.

Unlimited Vacation

Imagine this: On top of holidays and your regular two weeks of paid vacation, your employer lets you take as much summer vacation as you like, and pays you for all but one-quarter of the time. Or how about this? Your company pays you cold hard cash to go on vacation and demands that you stay out of touch — no calls, no emails, no texts — no kidding.

Whether it’s to attract talent, prevent burnout, cut costs or just make work better, there are actually companies out there that offer these sweet, atypical time-off packages, and more.

Image Market, a custom t-shirt maker based in Omaha, Nebraska, offers a standard vacation policy — a minimum two weeks of paid holidays. But on top of that, it closes for two weeks over Christmas and employees get paid for that time as well. During the summer months, workers are allowed to take as much time as they like — with half of it paid by the company, and another quarter of it paid through their personal and sick days. Why so much paid time off? “Christmas and summer time are slow for business. But the policy has proven to be a big cost saver,” says Kelly Loneman, company owner. He estimates the company saves about 25% of payroll costs in the summer. Plus, it saves in recruiting and training expenses because turnover is so low. “It’s rare to have someone quit,” he says. With all the paid vacation time, “it’s really hard to leave after you’ve had that.”

Quirky, a New York City-based consumer products manufacturer, shuts down for the first week of May, August and January, which are slower times for the company. This policy is based on the belief that this will lead to better work, more beautiful products, and an emotionally balanced team.

In addition, the company doesn’t limit or track the number of vacation, personal or sick days that workers take. So long as you’re responsible at work, “you take time as you need it,” says company spokesman Tiany Markofsky. To date, no one has abused the privilege, she claims.

When perks don’t work

Boosting productivity with less staff is the Holy Grail of most businesses, recession or not. With Canada’s skilled labour shortage expected to get worse before it gets better, employers and HR professionals are taking stock of their current staff and trying to figure out how to keep employees both happy and loyal.

Trading generous perks for productivity might seem like the obvious answer, but experts say workplace happiness isn’t about perks like free food in the cafeteria or a foosball table in the break room.

Dean Sockett, director of HR for Keg Restaurants Ltd., says the real key to winning over workers is effective management and a friendly, respectful workplace. About 8,000 people work at the Keg, and it boasts one of the lowest turnover rates in a service industry typically beleaguered by a revolving door of employees.

“We are big on ‘work hard and play hard’, and hosting many annual events such as the Keg Oscars, ski races, volleyball and baseball tournaments and a lip-synch contest — the winner of which receives tickets to a warm destination,” he says. “We have never formulated any premeditated strategies to retain staff; they all evolved naturally.”

Several top Keg executives started with the company as serving staff, a testament to a business climate that respects all of its staff as potential leaders, says Sockett, who also climbed up the ranks from waiting tables. “It’s just how we run our company.”

Frivolous perks don’t work, agrees David Clarkson, Vice-President of Strategy and Planning for Cisco Canada, a company that gives all of its 1,300 employees the option to work from home. Competitive salaries combined with the reduction in travel costs and the flexibility inherent in working from home has made it a successful initiative with employees, he says.

Healthy Managing

There are few industries in which keeping employees happy matters more than in health care: 70% of the total cost of health care is people costs. And as the health-care industry grows and prepares for an aging population, hospitals across Canada are finding that improving employee engagement is one of the clearest strategies to improving health-care delivery.

This is a lesson that Jack Kitts, president and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital, learned in 2009. Overall patient ratings were a concern and indicated that patient satisfaction wasn’t as good as it could be. The hospital decided that from then on every patient would be treated as if he or she was a loved one. “We learned quickly,” Kitts says, “that in order to even think about success in our goals we needed a very active and engaged workforce that included all 12,000 employees and 1,300 physicians.”

That year the hospital undertook its first employee and physician engagement survey. A total of 75% of employees responded saying they wanted the hospital to improve performance management, to make employee wellness a priority and to provide further career opportunities. The hospital set up committees to address these concerns. Since then, Kitts says the hospital has seen significant improvement in these areas, but there is still work to be done.

“If we can improve employee engagement,” Kitts says, “we have no doubt that our patient satisfaction scores will go up, our quality and safety indicators will go up and we’ll become one of the top-performing hospitals.”

St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg took a similar approach to engagement by first surveying its employees and asking what they wanted. Employees reported a need for more active management, says Dave Leschasin, Head of Human Resources. St. Bonifice initiated a culture shift to help employees know where they stand in the organization. Their management engagement indicators have since gone from 65% in the first year to 88% currently.

“Employees like working for engaged managers,” he says. “The number one reason why employees leave their organization is because of their manager.”

A high-technology success story from Waterloo, Ontario, OpenText Corporation, is a software development company that has grown to employ more than 1,400 employees in Canada and more than 5,100 worldwide.

They have a modern head office located next to the University of Waterloo that features outdoor barbeques, a walking path and a lounge with games and a bar.

The company offers great financial rewards including signing bonuses for some positions, referral bonuses and a share purchase plan available to all employees, letting everyone share in the company’s success. It supports employees who are new mothers, with maternity leave top-up payments (100% of salary for 19 weeks), as well as extended health benefit coverage during their leave. In addition to paid time off during the holiday season, new employees start with three weeks of paid vacation allowance, increasing by one day each year after their second year on the job.

Management is trained to encourage staff to enjoy ongoing employee development with tuition subsidies for job-related courses, career planning services and training programs. In addition, they care about helping employees balance work and their personal life with a variety of alternative work arrangements including flexible hours, shortened and compressed work week options and telecommuting.

Employee Engagement

Engagement is not just another trendy buzzword and it is not about making employees happy. It’s about making them productivity powerhouses. Engaged employees are excited to work for you. They want to stick around. They strive to excel, even at the most menial of tasks. In short, they’re the type of people who propel a company to greatness. Studies show that engaged employees crank up innovation and output, and deliver shareholder returns five times higher than organizations with dispirited staff.

But you can’t buy this kind of productivity with weekly massages and dress-down Fridays. Some managers consider using perks to foster engagement, because perks are visible and tangible. It is easier to understand and implement perks than the underlying concept of engagement, which has a very deep-rooted commitment to performance at its core.

This misconception leads many companies to invest in fringe benefits that do little or nothing for productivity, thereby wasting money.

Like many engagement-minded leaders, Catarina Sanders got a lot out of Daniel Pink’s 2009 bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Sanders, Vice-President of Talent at Habanero Consulting Group, a Vancouver online portal developer, is a vocal proponent of Pink’s central argument that people want to pick their own paths. So, she has helped steer the firm to create “an environment in which people can experience autonomy, mastery and a connection to a higher purpose,” she says.

It’s that last piece that Habanero has really nailed. The company practices open-book management — no details, financials included, are hidden from employees — so everyone knows the organization’s condition and direction. A new profit-sharing program helps to reinforce the link between individual efforts and overall success. “That transparency is critical to our [high] engagement, because people understand the context and see how their efforts are benefiting the business,” explains Sanders.

Habanero also has assigned every employee a “performance coach” who ties the employees work into the broader goals of the company and, in turn, conveys concerns and comments to the appropriate people. No coach works with more than five people, which allows for regular in-person contact and builds trust.

Clearly employees want different experiences and benefits from work, and organizations want to provide a culture that matches the business they are in. Offering choices to your employees have broad effects on engagement and productivity, and on the overall experience for the employee.

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