The Department of Labor recently released some positive numbers for the state of the US job market. Though the unemployment rate remains high at around 8.3 percent, the market is improving, with an estimated 227,000 new jobs created in February. This small improvement is expected to accelerate as some economists predict we’re headed for further economic recovery.
This news is bittersweet for many HR pros that may be facing high risk for employees leaving the company as jobs open up elsewhere. A common reason employees leave their employer is dissatisfaction with pay and benefits, and with countless studies showing employees’ negative perceptions about losing valuable benefits in recent years due to the recession, having employees leave because they don’t appreciate their benefits could cost your company huge amounts of money.
Of course the cost of losing an experienced employee and retraining a new one varies by industry and employer, but the DOL has been cited as estimating that it costs about 33 percent of a new recruit's salary to replace a lost employee. Even just five employees making $40,000 a year leaving your company could cost you $134,000 in productivity loss and training costs. Higher level jobs can cost an employer even more to replace—up to 150 percent by some estimates.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for increasing employees’ benefits appreciation, but there are a few key things you should know as you develop a strategy >>
1. Behavioral finance also applies to benefits
Employees care about how the benefits you offer will make their lives better. They use their benefits to support themselves financially or to provide financial security in most cases, which means the same emotions and perceptions that apply to money (which employees use to make their lives better) also apply to benefits.
The first thing to realize is that any benefits communication you have with employees should match how they use their benefits. Think through each benefit and how employees use it specifically; this is the starting point to creating a strategy for benefits communication that allows you to relate to employees’ personal lives. Try to go deeper than what’s obvious.
For example, employees use the 401(k) to save for retirement, but looking deeper you see that they use their 401(k) to secure their futures and not have to worry in retirement about how they will make ends meet. Rather than focusing on how robust the company’s benefits package is in your communication to employees, focus on what matters to them by relating to the employees’ concerns, showing them how their benefits provide them financial security and help them achieve the things important to their lives.
2. Employees are motivated by “small wins”
Small wins—making the end goal attainable through reasonable steps—are what drive behavioral change. Behavioral change is what drives employees to appreciate and utilize their benefits over the long-term. In order to reach employees and change their views of their benefits, you need to make the goal attainable for them.
The “goal” is what employees want to use their benefits for. For example, if an employee is participating in their health care benefit, their goal is probably to ensure that they and their family will be able to receive medical care if and when needed. Keep their end goal in mind and communicate your benefits in ways that make employees see how they can achieve their life goals with the benefit.
3. Employees need benefits decisions to be easy
Research on the mind and its ability to exert willpower has shown that people have limited capability to make decisions. This is why we often hear, “set your environment up for success” when people are trying to diet. It’s also the reason why you should provide benefits workshops or services earlier in the day rather than later, after employees have had to make many decisions throughout their day; at a certain point, we grow tired and our decision making suffers.
Because of this, HR can boost employees’ benefits appreciation and their participation by making their benefits easy to use. Beyond auto escalation, auto enrollment, and other ways that reduce benefits decisions, also consider how you can make getting information about benefits easier. Anywhere you can, provide education around their benefits—in break rooms, conference rooms, or HR offices—so employees will begin to see information that is useful to them about benefits all the time. This has a major psychological effect on employees, making them realize the significance of their benefits and the company’s efforts to help them maximize them.
Employers in 2010 spent an average of 30 percent of payroll costs specifically on benefits. That’s a lot of money to waste if employees aren’t aware of or appreciating them.