Culture, Brand, Engagement: How Benefits Support HR’s Three-Legged Stool

You know the old three-legged stool metaphor: you can’t sit down if one of those legs is off. In HR, that means culture, brand and engagement. All three are closely, intrinsically related; even more so given the new world of work. In the Deloitte University Press’ Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report, the news shows palpable gaps between perceived weaknesses in all, and the capability to solve them.

Among the findings, gleaned from more than 3,300 business and HR leaders:

  • 87% of organizations cite workforce culture and engagement as a top challenges.
  • 38% of respondents felt like they were “weak” when it came to helping employees balance personal and professional life/work demands.
  • 71% of those who responded stressed the importance of reinventing their HR, but only 42% said they felt actually prepared and ready to do it.

That last stat in particular is compelling, reflecting a hefty gap (30%) between perception and action. Not surprising: the radically changing world of work knows it needs to undergo an equally radical readjustment in HR. In terms of positive realignments, here’s one arena to consider: Benefits. Rather than a part of the basic HR operations, benefits are a deeply entrenched facet of company culture and brand, and a critical driver of employee engagement.

Brand Awesome

Successful organizations like Netflix make the connection between employer brand and HR — including benefits. Logically, a new breed of workplace needs a new approach to talent, so it created one. In terms of recruitment, it made sure to include its approach to benefits as part of the brand. In terms of firing, it turns a loss into a mutual gain: if someone is let go, a generous severance may help her regroup, retrain and further their career — which possibly means she circles back to the company with more training and experience (on someone else’s dime).

A Culture Of Benefits

Other Netflix innovations include flexible vacation time, an honor system policy on expenses, and an interesting take on perks: this is an organization that figured out that having grade-A colleagues (a.k.a. fully formed adults) is a better employee perk than foosball. Other realistic components include health care programs (such as those created by Jiff) that incentivize employees to use services that promote their actual health. Firms may also offer realistic avenues for improving financial wellness — such as reducing crippling student loan debt and investing with a conscience via a firm like SoFi. Offering these kinds of benefits isn’t the norm yet, but it’s helping to set a new standard, delineating a forward thinking, authentic culture that is clearly aligned to the new world of work.

Transparency Drives Engagement

The Deloitte study found that 78% of respondents believed culture and engagement are critical, but only 47% felt ready to put that into action. For that 31% gap, consider the Netflix severance concept, which uses HR strategy to replace taboo with transparency — and that, my friends, is a radical cultural shift. It scales the traditional, monolithic fear of losing ones job down to a normal hiccup (or not) in a modern career trajectory.

The change aligns with how millennial (and other) employees perceive working — as constant disruptions, possible even in employment itself. In Netflix’s case, it also means an authentic and open conversation in which both parties play grown-up. Virgin made a similar splash with its greatly expanded parental leave policy. Such instances foster engagement by allowing for the fact that yes, we are all human here. Things happen. Families happen. We will adjust — with you.

Lack of employee engagement has some heavy hidden costs, but they’re completely logical: engagement is part emotion, part function. If an employee feels as if they’re not being supported or acknowledged for their own emotional and functional expenditure on behalf of your company, then they’re going to spend less of that energy. But create a benefits program that recognizes that exchange, and is the figurehead of an authentic culture, and you drive and deepen engagement. Now, have a seat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: huwbassett Flickr via Compfight cc