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Unlocking the value of culture: rethinking engagement

Office coffee baristas and Ping-Pong tables?

A decade ago those kinds of perks were all the rage among companies in the tech industry looking to court a highly sought-after talent pool who expected more from employers than just a paycheck. Today, those employees, and their companies, have helped transform and define what the value of culture is to an organization and the power it has to shape the future of a company.

Across industries, company culture now centers on the relationship between employer and employee and sharing a common vision aligned to the mission of their organizations. Because of this shift, employers see culture as a positive force in building company value, employee morale and productivity. Culture is a key competitive advantage for companies to meet challenges and power a business forward.

Increasingly, benefits are at the forefront of shaping and supporting company culture. But to unlock their power, organizations must shift their focus beyond merely offering benefits to communication and engagement strategies that foster participation and demonstrate the value to employees. For HR managers, the key is to understand how their employees engage best and foster a two-way dialogue that encourages greater participation overall.

Identifying the influencers
Building a strong workplace culture is part art, part science. Each company approaches it differently, but part of the effort starts with learning about the trends that matter to employees beyond the walls of the company itself. HR managers ask themselves, What is happening inside my company's industry and what is happening ouside of it? What is the market telling me about the kinds of people being hired?

From there, gathering perceptions about company values within the workplace is essential. Crucial to this effort, says Douglas Choo, vice president, National Accounts Strategy, MetLife, is identifying the decision-makers among staff and developing those relationships. Who are the influencers? Are they managers, or do employees prefer more peer-to-peer communication?

"Employers [may think] that their messaging is getting through to employees because they have a lot of messages going out,” says Choo. “Then they realize that the way the workforce prefers to absorb the information is very different.”

Case in point, says Choo, is the significant communication gap that exists between companies and their employees when it comes to non-medical benefits. According to MetLife’s 14th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, 74% of employers understand the value of non-medical options while only 47% of employees do.  How can employers close this knowledge gap? By understanding how employees prefer to communicate and the benefits that resonate most with them.

Multiple Channels
With four generations in the workforce today, providing multiple channels for communication goes a long way toward facilitating engagement.1 According to MetLife’s Study, for instance, 68% of Millennials, the youngest generation in the workforce, prefer one-on-one consultations about financial matters. This tops mobile apps, text messages and even benefits websites, notes the Study. That’s certainly surprising given how tech savvy Millennials are. By contrast, 62% of Generation X and 57% of Baby Boomers prefer one-on-one interactions over technology.

By engaging more closely, managers can also get a better handle on how company benefits are being utilized according to demographics and increase employee participation. Employees are increasingly viewing benefits as a foundational element of financial wellbeing and expect employers to serve as the point of entry.2 HR managers who can assess which benefits are being used and which are not, and by whom, can offer more refined choices that better match demand.

“You have to spend time with employees to understand how they translate company values into behavior,” says Laura Hamill, Ph.D., Chief People Officer of Limeade, a Washington-based corporate wellness technology company. “After that, the hard part is making sure you have the actual systems aligned.”

According to MetLife’s Study, giving employees the option to pick and choose more benefits that match their needs and lifestyles can make them feel valued by their organizations. By offering options that have specific meaning for each segment, the value will be clearer to each worker.

As Choo points out, the HR manager who engages with employees and knows the details and quality of the products they want most wins.

It's About the People
Today, American workers take certain things for granted. They expect to work for companies that match their values in jobs that bring them personal satisfaction. They expect certain perks, such as flexible work schedules or the ability to take a company laptop home to finish a project. As more and more companies have learned, those are standard perks for companies to offer. What really builds a strong workplace culture that attracts the best and the brightest is the value companies place on the most important element of any business—the people.

 “For years the attention given to workplace culture was superficial,” says Hamill. “Now it starts from onboarding. Now, the culture itself is a benefit.”

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1 Harvard Business Review. "Managing People from 5 Generations." https://hbr.org/2014/09/managing-people-from-5-generations
2 MetLife's 14th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study