The pandemic has brought about numerous challenges to employees and organisations as they navigate the economic impact on business and the need to engage a workforce that has moved away from the traditional work setting of the office.
Having a strong performance and employee rewards strategy can help organisations to engage employees, retain top talent and consequently achieve their business objectives.
Seepika Singhal, General Manager-HR, Head – India Total Rewards, R1 RCM, is a seasoned Total Rewards leader with 15 years of progressive experience in rewards strategy and designing effective pay and benefits programs for various industry sectors like Technology, Consulting, Manufacturing, Media and Health care.
She speaks to us about how employee rewards help to retain top talent, the impact of the pandemic on performance and engagement, navigating employee wellbeing through crises and much more.
Does having a proper employee rewards strategy in place help to strengthen the organization’s business objectives?
The objective of any organization is to realize the corporate vision and consistently achieve the mission. The business strategy of the company gives the direction of how that mission can be achieved every day.
No organization has unlimited resources, and hence the optimum utilization of the organization’s money is critical to achieving business objectives. A well-crafted Rewards program helps an organization gain maximum return on their compensation dollars.
Questions such as how to tie in pay with business goals; what do we value and how should we reward what we value? What pay choices help us to attract, retain, develop, engage, and motivate top talent? How do we prioritize mission-critical jabs and pay for the right skills? These questions are answered through total rewards strategies that define the right mix of the elements of total rewards.
Hence rewards strategy that uses compensation, benefits, recognition, career development, performance management and work-life effectiveness to ensure the right talent is available to meet the objectives of business while staying within budget is fundamental to the success of an organization.
How has the pandemic impacted employee engagement, performance assessments and rewards, particularly in the remote work setting?
Pandemic has tested the organization’s ability to adapt. Organizations that are nimble, agile and have quick decision-making process can sail through, whereas some organizations due to the nature of business and bureaucratic systems have come to a standstill and have suffered losses. No matter whether the top line and bottom line is impacted or not, the ways and rules to engage, reward and assessment performance have been transformed for good by the pandemic.
Employers face a fourfold threat to talent management amidst the pandemic:
- Continued slow growth and ongoing cost pressures are forcing organizations to take a hard look at the sustainability and competitiveness of their labour cost structures.
- Intensifying competition as the job market started opening. Competition for critical talent is starting to heat up, despite the numbers of people still unemployed or underemployed.
- The realization that long-established workplace practices are increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of a remote and digitally connected workforce.
- The need for extending humanitarian support in times of crisis has emerged strongly as the public support system and medical care system began to crumble in wake of the current COVID crisis.
The year-end, face-to-face appraisal conversation with managers that used to give jitters to employees is replaced by periodic meetings and virtual connects for performance conversations. The group tea breaks, team lunches and Friday parties no longer exist to unwind, bond, and connect with peers. Many employees who switched jobs have not seen their office spaces in brick and mortar.
Employee engagement is a big challenge in the virtual world. But as every challenge comes with opportunities the limitation posed by pandemic has opened new vistas for engagement. Many employees have seen the best human side of their companies; never ever the leaders have been more empathetic. The pandemic has also revealed the true strength of the organization cultural fabric.
With innovative reward practices to support employees in challenging times, organizations can effectively engage the workforce. At each step, employers stood by their employees, going above and beyond to extend support. It is wonderful to see the trends that have emerged in terms of best practices across various industries.
How do employee rewards systems help to retain the correct talent in an organization?
A rewards strategy greatly influences the employee life cycle in an organization. The majority of the organizations are facing the risk of high turnover for skills in demand in the market. Employee turnover costs the organization time and money and in addition also create a knowledge gap which is manifested in the indirect cost of training and time to adapt to standard levels of performance for the new staff. While the common perception is more money can plug the talent leakage. It is a proven researched fact that the compensation solely is not sufficient to retain and engage the employee.
To motivate the workforce for performing at higher levels and serving longer tenure in the organization, a mixed reward strategy is needed that appeals to the both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation of employees. An organization should focus on rewarding two important aspects – Performance and Behaviour. The understanding of job persona and job profile is also important. For a financially driven employee, a higher take-home is the motivation. For an employee who has elderly dependents and family an attractive health benefits package will be important. Some other monetary benefits are wealth accumulation benefits like Employee stock options, flexi-benefits that offer a tax advantage.
To summarize the rewards strategist should keep a fair and balanced mix of CARBS while designing the recipe of effective rewards design as a retention tool:
- C- Compensation
- A – Appreciation
- R- Recognition
- B- Benefits and Perks
- S- Stability and culture of the organisation
- Reward right behaviours: – Tangible results, like sales goals, stakeholder collaboration, cross-functional milestones should be rewarded. Exhibiting corporate values and positive behaviours should be appreciated and rewarded to encourage and reinforce positive behaviours.
- Tie reward with the achievement of org/business/team goals
- Customizable rewards – Individual needs are different and a rewards program that provides flex and adaptability based on individual needs serve the best for the multi-generation workforce.
- Keep it simple– The reward programs should be simple enough that the front-line field staff is able to understand and relate with
- Review and Redesign– Keep evaluating the utilization and effectiveness of the rewards program and revise or enhance as deem appropriate.
The trigger for the decision to quit could be a bad boss or lack of recognition. But with the above rewards principles in place, organizational stability, culture, and brand value better retention can be managed.
What are some of the ways in which employee engagement can boost wellbeing during a time of crisis?
Well-being is no more a differentiator in times of crisis it is the engagement enhancer, and the absence of quality well-being programs acts as disengagement aggravators. The ongoing crisis is an opportunity for organizations to stand in support and solidarity of their people and to my mind below are holistic ten-level supports offering organizations can customize basis the availability of resources and willingness.
- Safeguarding measures – social distancing, work from home
- Immunity building support- Diet, nutrition and COVID essential care kits
- Testing and consultation support – Lab tests and doc consultation services
- Transportation support- Ambulance, concierge services
- Emergency healthcare services – Oxygen, plasma, Hospital bed availability
- Insurances covers and financial assistance.
- Emotional well-being programs
- Time off support to bounce back.
- Financial Assistance to families of deceased employees
- Preventive programs like vaccination assistance
How does your organization strengthen employee engagement through policy and what are some of the initiatives you have taken within the organization to do this?
I feel proud to be associated with an organization like R1 with a strong global and Indian leadership who is determined and agile to support employees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we at R1 have taken significant steps for the safety and security of our associates. We made sure that there is no impact on revision budgets, the increments and promotions were done as in a regular non-COVID year. No lay-offs due to pandemic, on the contrary for recognizing that employees are sharing their personal space for official work, we came up with a gratitude allowance for all employees.
Many COVID specific benefit policies have been introduced for extending the mobile and internet allowances while working from home. Focus on improving immunity and health, enhanced insurance coverage and introduction of top-up programs are some of the steps taken in Wave 1.
In wave 2 of the pandemic, along with monetary support, emergency support services and mental health and wellbeing programs have been curated. We have started emergency services like ambulance booking, RTPCR booking, hospital bed booking support for employees and their family members, hardship allowance, contingency leaves of someone diagnosed with COVID or is a primary caregiver, well-being programs for nutrition and lung health, breathing exercises, yoga and resilience-building programs.
Teleconsultation and telemedicine support have been introduced, 24×7 emotional counselling through EAP services is extended for employees and their families, coping with grief program and wellbeing webinars are few initiatives to name. We have also extended home care treatment support and are actively working on vaccination support. Employees have taken these steps and initiatives very positively and this is reflected in the record-breaking engagement scores that we received in annual pulse surveys.
I would like to summarize by saying that when leaders of the organization are deeply committed to the well-being of its employees, and when the element of “CARE” is embedded in the culture, it reflects positively in employee association at all levels.