Total rewards transformation: Perks your people actually care about in 2021

Happy employee getting recognition through total rewards program

2020 is finally in the rearview mirror! But although we're now in a new year, 2020 is still influencing how we do many things moving forward. One major area that last year’s events have shaped is total rewards. What employees valued in 2019, like voluntary benefits such as pet insurance, commuter benefits, identity theft services, and the like have been replaced with things like medical benefits, well-being services, and work flexibility thanks to our new reality. So, as we have in other aspects of our lives, we must adapt to meeting those new needs in 2021.

Below are some focus areas to consider to match your total rewards strategy to the perks your people will actually care about this year and in the future.

Employee well-being

Most of us associate well-being with physical health but there is another important aspect that's often overlooked, which is mental health. After a year like 2020, where most of our time was spent in crisis mode, mental well-being has really come to the forefront as a critical aspect of our health.

I know it may seem like we mention this a lot, but this more holistic view of well-being isn't just a fad or trend; it's here to stay. How well you support employees' physical and mental health impacts your ability to build trust, reduces absenteeism, increases productivity, and decreases medical expenses. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) depression and anxiety have a significant impact on the economy to the tune of one trillion dollars per year in productivity losses.

With that said, there are plenty of options available to help you make employee well-being a part of your total rewards mix. In the short-term, you can lean on HR technology to provide employees with a well-being solution. Once you have an offering for employees to take advantage of, it will be very important to proactively reach out to employees one-on-one to check in with them, share the wellness resources available to them, and explain how they can get access.

If one-on-one conversations aren't possible, share this information via email or text — you can even roll these kinds of communications out from the same place you manage your well-being resources if you have the right HR system. The point is, you want to show employees that they're supported without them having to ask for it and express that you're there when they need it most.

Employee recognition

It’s nice to be recognized for a job well done. What seems like a small act can be very impactful, and can lead to better engagement, higher morale, and a deeper sense of camaraderie. The key to making an employee recognition program successful is that it must be intentional, genuine, and heartfelt.

Keep in mind that employees have different preferences around how they are recognized — while many do appreciate public shout-outs, others may prefer direct praise from a manager during a one on one meeting, an email, or even a hand-written note instead. You can also invite peers to recognize each other. The Forbes Human Resources Council has some great practical employee recognition ideas that you can use for inspiration. So, if you haven’t already, make a commitment to make the practice of employee recognition part of your culture.

Work flexibility

Many companies went through a decentralization of their workforce last year as at least some of their people moved to working remotely thanks to COVID-19. This successful shift in thinking around what tasks are a fit for working from home has increased employees' expectations around flexibility, and this can be a way you set your organization and culture apart in the market in 2021.

Many companies are looking into ways to allow employees to work from home 2-3 days a week and go into the office for the remaining days. This gives employees the best of both worlds, the ability to come together and collaborate with colleagues in-person but also balance that with time to work from home, prioritize family, and balance personal obligations. This can lead to higher employee engagement and productivity, plus it can be an appealing perk to attract talent. So, now’s the time to think on this and put a formal policy in place.

Conclusion: Adapt to changing needs to reach for success in the new year

Times have certainly changed, and employees' needs have too. It’s more important than ever to support employees in new ways through physical and mental well-being, provide encouragement and camaraderie through employee recognition programs, and provide a flexible work schedule to allow your people to balance work and personal obligations. These initiatives may require some investment upfront but the return on these investment in terms of employee engagement, healthcare cost savings, and an increase in productivity make it worthwhile.

And all that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways we can learn from what we've been through and maximize the technologies at our disposal to build repeatable strategic processes that put employee well-being at the forefront. Check out our playbook for HR technology during times of crisis to see what we mean, and start making sure not just that you can react to challenges in the moment, but also make long-term changes that help your organization come out stronger.

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