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Dear Workforce How Should We Go About Re-Evaluating Our Employee Benefits

September 7, 2011

Dear Contrarian:

Research always is a good tool, but you should think carefully about the kind of research you need. We suggest that you first evaluate the firm's financial situation and consider what can be afforded. Next, determine the impact of the benefits package on retention and recruiting by talking to human resources, including the compensation and benefits staff, to find out what they hear and know about your program from the people they are recruiting. It is crucial to include senior management to determine organizational strategy and goals.

We would suggest two additional approaches to fact-finding—conduct employee focus groups as well as a benchmark survey of companies with which you compete for talent.

The focus group charter can be clearly stated as exploratory in nature. The groups might examine employee understanding of their benefits and what employees value—why they come to work at your organization rather than going across the street—beyond the benefits you offer.

You might position this research as a way to determine whether your employees see the various people policies and programs (your total rewards programs) as linked to their professional and personal growth. The areas to discuss beyond benefits would be affiliation, career, work content and compensation. You might say that the information gathered through the focus groups will be used to define and articulate an employee value proposition for your organization.

In addition to focus groups, conducting a survey of those companies with which you compete for talent, especially when in growth mode, will help senior management decide where you need to be in light of the competition, and how to position yourselves. Benchmarking your company's offerings against those of the competition is an important step in determining how to position benefits as part of your overall employee value proposition. Do you want to provide benefits that are richer than your competition, in line with the competition, or less rich than the competition? You may want to consider making up for any benefits shortfall in other areas (e.g., compensation, paid time off, richer affiliation, etc.)

It's always tempting to just call your vendors and ask for a new "package," but if you really want to align your benefits programs with your organizational goals, it is worth taking the time to do the research, and it's worth doing the right research.

SOURCE: Nenette Kress, Segal/MGC Communications, New York; John R. Povinelli, Sibson Consulting (a division of Segal), Tempe, Arizona; and Chris Calvert, Sibson Consulting, New York, October 30, 2007.

LEARN MORE: Please read Diagnosing the Workforce to find out how and why companies are gauging the health of their employees.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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