It’s FINALLY Time to Rethink How We Do Total Rewards

The Tech Talent Canada North conference made its official debut yesterday (October 18th) in Toronto, and ScaleHR Founder, Jeff Waldman, had the honour of leading a session with Amy Tailby – Senior Manager of Total Rewards at Benevity.  This break-out session was about rethinking how tech companies do total rewards. It’s a hot topic right now among HR Leaders in Tech. The slides can be viewed below.

The theme of this talk is that “the world has changed”. We know that change is a constant in all organizations, and has been for some time. However, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, it’s a different kind of change. The global business community was forced to change how they operated their businesses overnight. There was no warning; it just happened. Within the technology sector, employees woke up in mid-March 2020 and did not commute to their offices. They simply opened up their laptops in their home offices, kitchen tables, living room couches, wherever, and worked. Fast forward to today, a significant portion of the tech community continues to work virtually; possessing extreme flexibility in where, when, and how they work. The traditional definition of the “workplace” is dead. Now it means many things and is defined by each person.

The other significant shift is a heavier reliance on technology, specifically workplace technologies that support employees to be productive and work in teams. The trend towards adopting technology at work has been building during the past 20 years, but with the pandemic, this gradual build proliferated into the stratosphere. Enter Slack, Google Workspace, video technology such as Zoom and Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Notion, Coda, Discord, and the list goes on.

We have realized many benefits from working virtually, but we have seen many negative effects. The biggest drawback has been burnout. Many session attendees were surprised when they heard that burnout was on the rise, and not on the decline. It was natural to assume that as the pandemic continued (now into its 3rd year) burnout would decline and subside. That is further from the truth. According to research undertaken by WorkJam, executives viewed extreme workplace stress as the third priority behind labour shortages and employee turnover – this is the first time workplace stress made the top 3 priorities.

Why Does All of This Matter?

Many session attendees were puzzled why the first 15-20 minutes of the session were taken up by setting the context. What does all of this have to do with “rethinking total rewards”? The answer is simple. How people experience work influences their lives outside of work. This is a critical relationship to know and understand. If burnout is on the rise, and frankly, could be described as a health crisis, what are organizations doing to rethink and shift how they support their employees? The old ways of providing support to employees won’t work. The new workplace currency is “employee well-being”. How organizations support employees and their well-being will have the biggest positive impact on personal health, productivity, engagement and business performance.

As a side note, Gallup recently published a phenomenal paper, “State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report“. We encourage you to download the report and read it in full.

The Silver Bullet…

Unfortunately, there is not one. Every organization is different, and what each does to support its employees needs to be unique to them. Eventually, we did get to our top 5 tips to rethink total rewards in tech companies. Here they are.

  1. Maximize what you already have – employees are not benefits experts and health benefits programs can be a little complicated – have you tried reading a 104-page benefits booklet? Yeah, it’s ugly. Gather your data on the current usage of your benefits and lean on your benefits broker to tweak or redesign what you have. If you don’t have a broker, get one.
  2. Stop hiding stuff from your employees – it’s all about trust; Gen Z, Gen Y and many Gen Xers have never had to deal with inflation and significantly rising costs of living. Neither have HR leaders. This is new. Money matters and your employees are starting to pay attention. Be transparent with your compensation philosophy and structure. If you don’t have one, add it to your list of projects for next quarter. Transparency creates trust in your employees. Trust matters.
  3. Put your BJEDI glasses on – we live in the most diverse country on planet earth, and your employees need to see themselves in how you present your total rewards. We know this is not easy, but when you’re strategizing and planning, make sure you overlay a DE&I lens.
  4. Google? Who gives a shit? – it’s important to have a good sense of what the market is doing so you can be competitive. But, don’t try and take what other companies are doing and dunk it into your organization. Netflix, Airbnb, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Hootsuite, Shopify, and many other large tech companies have a lot of money and resources. What they offer their employees works for them, and may not for you. What you can learn from these larger tech companies is that they have created total rewards strategies that make sense for them.
  5. Leverage and USE your data – your data is your source of truth. Use it. It will inform what direction you should take that has the biggest positive impact on your employees.

This session was about setting a strategic mindset to approach total rewards. It’s not about the specific tactics, it’s about your approach. Using the analogy of building a house. You can’t start putting up the drywall if you don’t have your framing complete. The new workplace currency is employee well-being – possess a well-being mindset and overlay it when you start rethinking total rewards in your organization.

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