Admiring but not replicating
Of course, advisers working in smaller organisations may well say it’s all very well for large companies like Netflix to introduce such innovations – it wouldn’t work for them. Or would it? Alan Heyward, executive manager, accumulate, suggests there’s always room for innovation in terms of benefits.
“There’s definitely a trend towards employees getting more and more creative [with their benefits],” he says. “The expectation of the younger age groups is that flexibility is almost like a tick in the box and there are plenty of studies out there saying how much more productive people are when you’re away from the office. Work actually gets in the way of you working. So we’re certainly seeing that trend around work-life balance, which is about working when you need to, where you need to.”
However, admiring the likes of Google, Virgin and Netflix is one thing; trying to replicate exactly what they’ve done is quite another.
“You can’t copy it,” says Heyward. “Culture consists of so many components. It’s not just about having a bowling alley in the office; it’s not about wearing casual clothes every day; it’s not about working flexibly. You need to figure out what is going to be right for your organisation and recognise that when you go to your employee base to ask them, they’ll say they want everything. So how useful is that?”
Heyward suggests trialing new things on a smaller scale. “We do that here at Accumulate – we see what has the best take up. Some things haven’t been that successful but you need to go through a process to figure out what is the best way to connect and engage. All benefits come with a cost, to a degree, and you want to get a return on that cost, both the tangibles and intangibles.”
Don’t forget the basics
While it might be cool to have a slide in the office, and an unlimited leave policy, the benefits basics – petrol and grocery discounts, health insurance, movie tickets – still have a place.
“Those things are available in so many organisation that it’s almost a ticket to the game. You need to have them as a base offering but just because people may not take these up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer them. I’d recommend determining what the basics are for the particular workforce you have.”
Heyward suggests, for example, that tech-savvy Gen Ys might not consider traditional discounts all that relevant – but they might welcome discounts on tech gadgets. “They might work close to the city and they might not own a car, so petrol discounts won’t mean much to them,” he says. “There are basics and these are broadly applicable but don’t simply tick the box without thinking about how applicable they’ll be for your workforce.”
Leaders and culture
McCord said that she tends to see one major issue when leaders are attempting to mould their corporate culture. It’s all about ‘mismatch’:
“I frequently see CEOs who are clearly winging it,” she said. “They lack a real agenda. Workers notice these things, and if they see a leader who’s not fully prepared and who relies on charm, IQ, and improvisation, it affects how they perform, too. It’s a waste of time to articulate ideas about values and culture if you don’t model and reward behaviour that aligns with those goals.”
Netflix’s ‘baby-balance’ and other initiatives are not purely altruistic gestures. This policy addresses a critical objective for current chief talent officer Tawni Cranz; “Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field.”
So there’s something in it for the employer too. Indeed, Mercer’s 2014 Australian Benefits Review highlighted that benefits can genuinely impact the way people conduct themselves for the company they work for – especially when these benefits are built into a reward & recognition program. In other words, benefits can play a role in reinforcing desired behaviours and values.
Heyward notes there are two perspectives on this equation. “We see benefits as being quite a good tool in attraction and retention of employees, so it’s probably more about driving employee advocacy about an organisation and what’s in it for employees. They have an indirect play on behaviours and aligning people with values.
“Whereas when we talk about values and behaviours, I think that’s when more traditional recognition and employee engagement strategies have a bigger role to play.”
In 2015, Heyward has seen a much greater blending of recognition and benefits. “They are not one and the same but, looking at the EVP, organisations are seeing that having benefits and recognition sitting side by side rather than separately as in years gone by is far more beneficial.”