What I learnt about employee preferences regarding their benefits (Middle East)
When it comes to employee value proposition (EVP) companies want to get it right: everybody wants their people to be satisfied with their reward, committed to the business, motivated and spending their time doing work rather than shopping around for better offers.
If your company has a people survey – and it probably does – it likely includes a question about salaries and perhaps a separate one about the benefits package. You gather external data, benchmark pay to the market and act on any major discrepancies. You may be passionately involved in discussions about the new generations of the workforce, making sure you can offer the employee experience that suits the Millennials and Gen Z – in the end, we all want to build an engaged, motivated workforce that cares about the future of the business. Perhaps you are consulting research papers, academics and experts in all these fields to make sure you do not miss on the latest market trends and knowledge and are ahead of the game.
These are all valuable practices that most companies follow. There is one caveat only: market data, like all statistical data, show an overall trend and represent the bigger picture, but every big picture is made out of lots of data points which, individually, say a lot of different things. So what does it look like at your company level, if those individual points are employees? What do your people say about their most valued benefits? How does it compare to the market trends?
A couple of years ago I had a unique opportunity to work in a reputable Middle Eastern company. Being out of my natural habitat provided for a lot of learning but one particular experience stayed with me. In HR, we set off on an ambitious journey to refresh the EVP (Employee Value Proposition). We formed a strong team and did a thorough analysis: market trends, external data benchmark, internal data analysis, talking to peers, demography of the workforce. We seriously talked about the Future of Work and how the new generations want “something different”, conscious that our staff were young, skilled, talented, well-travelled, confident, citizens of the world, with a lot of career and opportunities ahead of them.
But talking “about” it did not seem enough, so we decided to ask the employees directly: we sent a detailed questionnaire to staff, asking them to rank their specific benefits out of the generous menu that we were offering. We wanted to understand which elements really mattered to our people and worked for employee retention.
The results came out in neat Power BI charts and with that came a surprise: across the generations, seniority, and gender, people ranked their pension scheme as number one. Old and young, women and men, senior managers, and operators, consistently. Have we not all heard about the impatient young people who do not believe in future savings? Have we not come across job candidates in various countries passionately negotiating to convert their pension contributions into higher salaries? Are they younger generations not about “cash today”, a bit impatient and distrustful of “the system” and some uncertain future promise? I certainly heard a lot about it, in different markets. And then we received the data and that proofed the opposite.
What we learnt from that was that if a particular employee benefit is good, it will defy market trends and assumptions. And it may challenge your thinking about the needs of your people. General market trends are good as a starting point but if you are looking to know more, perhaps before making a major change to your EVP, it helps a lot to ask your people.
Does it mean that you cannot change some benefits because people really like them? You can and sometimes you should do it regardless. But knowing about your employees’ preferences will equip you in information to guide you in the change process.
We learnt a lot more from that questionnaire. Talk to us if you would like to know more.