Why offering employees choice is so important in the new working world
Over the last couple of years, the concept of flexibility and choice for employees has moved to the forefront of HR’s thinking. Recently, I was asked to speak at an event on this very topic, and it seemed to be something which resonated with a lot of people. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on why offering your people maximum choice is so important for maximum engagement.
Maximum choice – why?
Today, choice is fast becoming a valued currency.
Businesses have recently done everything in their power to offer choice to their customers because they are realising that consumers are individuals with various needs who demand products and services that fit their lifestyle. As companies continue to find creative and sustainable solutions to offer clients choice in how they shop, how they eat, how they customise their devices, we must ask ourselves why these very same companies aren’t quickly realising that their own workforce has the same need for choice and flexibility in the workplace.
In our day to day life, we get to customise everything, from the way we set up our mobile (setting up alerts, sleep modes, font sizes) to the way we shop (online, in store, click and collect). This choice makes us feel more in control and as a result perhaps a little more satisfied with any product or service. So why shouldn’t we offer this to employees, to make them more satisfied with their employer?
Our workforce is also made up of unique individuals yet for the most part we continue to create workplaces that cater to one way of working. We tend to be prescriptive about when, where and how employees work. Although this may be useful and efficient for certain types of roles, we continue to make the assumption that this is how all jobs should function.
The same applies to benefits and rewards. These have been focused on providing something that caters to the majority of our people. Historically, this may have been our only option, given how difficult and administrative benefits were to implement. However it also meant that we were only catering to employees with the most ‘traditional’ or ‘typical’ lifestyle.
We focus on things like maternity leave, life insurance, pension contributions. We have gifting policies for people who get married or have a baby. These are all great initiatives, but do they actually benefit all employees? What about those who aren’t in a traditional family or those who chose to stay single?
Ultimately, choice makes each employee feel like they are being valued as an individual, leading to them feeling more engaged with the business.
The hesitance of most organisations stems from not wanting to lose control themselves. They fear no longer being able to accomplish their own goals. We must however approach this as we do with our customers and find creative and sustainable solutions for all parties. It’s not about providing full flexibility and full choice, but rather maximum choice within a sustainable context aligned with company strategy.
Maximum choice – why NOW?
So those are some of the reasons why offering maximum choice is important - but why the urgency now?
Firstly I think we need to recognise the bargaining power employees have today. They’re more in demand than ever before. According to Manpower globally the talent shortage is at its highest for 15 years
So candidates hold a lot of the cards, whether you’re trying to attract new talent or keep hold of your existing ones. And of course, there is now an increased emphasis on attracting and retaining diverse talent — so it makes sense to make your offering as broad as possible, to ensure there’s something for everyone.
Is it feasible?
Even businesses who had always been eager to provide flexibility and choice until very recently may not have seen it as a practical or realistic option.
Take remote working as an example. The implementation of this approach had been viewed as coming with a multitude of risks. Organisations weren’t sure that the technology would be good enough, that managers would be able to lead their teams from a distance or that employees would be as productive or as engaged. Today, we have come to realise that most of these concerns were myths and that we can do most things well remotely.
With regards to benefits — previously, choice meant more work for HR, as any type of benefits implementation required time for research, analysis and execution as well as administration of benefits. It was therefore understandable that HR departments and businesses would simply look for solutions that worked for most people.
Today is a slightly different story. HR can leverage various solutions to aid in the implementation process. The first is technology and its power to allow you to find out what your people want and how they want it. You can now use easily accessible and customisable employee survey tools to collect this data.
The second enabler is the presence of benefits and rewards partners who can source, implement as well as administer benefits on your behalf. Perkbox as an example, can do so via an easy to use app which reaches your employees directly, all while providing you with analysis on your workforce as well as their engagement of the benefits.
In short, HR, through the right partnerships, can today provide maximum choice without having to source its own benefits.
Is it feasible for you?
As you read this, you may be wondering if this is actually feasible for your business, especially as you must continue to properly support your customers and ensure that all your business needs are met. As I previously mentioned, it’s not about providing full flexibility and full choice, but rather maximum choice within a sustainable context aligned with company strategy. Therefore, maximum choice will have a different definition in each organisation.
Some of you may be able to offer a work from home option quite easily, whereas other business models rely upon people being on-site. For those businesses, they may be able to offer flexibility through various shift patterns which may account for people’s lifestyles. Or perhaps, it could be as simple as allowing people to take phone calls or listen to music while they work.
Employees understand the business you’re in and for the most part will be reasonable with their requests. Find out what is important to them and implement solutions that work for your business and provide real value to your workforce.
The other big concern is usually cost, especially as many organisations have been hit financially by the pandemic and are now trying to find creative solutions to cut costs. The beauty about flexibility is that it doesn’t always have to cost anything. It does, however, require an open mind and a little bit of creative thinking. And the advantage to finding the right benefits partners is not just about providing a plethora of offerings to your employees — but also about benefiting from lower overall cost and time commitments. So at the end of the day, choice isn’t necessarily more expensive. You simply have to listen, be a little creative and find the right partners.
If you are looking to implement greater choice in your employee offering, here are a few tips that I think could be useful
- Don’t make assumptions on what people want — listen and speak to them regularly
- Think outside the box when it comes to benefits and rewards, away from just traditional options.
- Look for partners who can do a lot of the legwork for you when it comes to variety in benefits and rewards
- Explore the possibility of choice and variety in the actual work content as well - can people engage in different types of work and develop new skills?
- It’s not just about what the company offers either. Ensure managers don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership either — people need to be treated as individuals