From Compensation to Benefits: 3 Ways HR can Unlock the Potential of Total Rewards

Employees today want more equitable workplaces, and they’re willing to leave their job to find an employer that offers what they’re looking for. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for creating an equitable workplace — it requires a multi-faceted approach. But one way to start is by investing in a total rewards program, which can help organizations attract top talent, foster a great employee experience, and secure a competitive advantage.

HR is often tasked with leading the charge of crafting a total rewards program, but it’s no easy task. Today, the challenge to crafting this type of offering is twofold. First, HR practitioners must design inclusive, strategic total rewards programs that address employees’ needs. To bring them to life, they must effectively communicate the value of these programs to secure buy-in from executive leadership, whose priority is often the bottom line.

Prioritizing employee advocacy while making the business case for a significant investment in total rewards requires a healthy mix of strategy and empathy – a need that HR practitioners, given the nature of their day-to-day roles, are uniquely qualified to fill.

With the right resources, tools, and training, HR professionals can continue building their Total Rewards expertise to help their organizations – and employees – reach their goals. [KJ1] 

Solving the Total Rewards Puzzle

Building a one-size-fits-all total rewards program is no longer a viable option for organizations. Today, HR practitioners need to understand the intersection between employee needs and organizational goals to create a customized approach. To set themselves up for success, HR practitioners should prioritize three tactics:

Equip HR to be experts in total rewards. In the past, a competitive salary and health insurance was considered adequate to retain employees. Today’s employees care about those offerings, but also expect a robust reward package. To meet those expectations, HR practitioners need to understand the full scope of total rewards, which includes:

  • Evaluating compensation practices to develop a pay strategy and incentive plan that aligns with business objectives and the employee value proposition.
  • Expanding the definition of benefits to include things like college savings plans, commuter benefits, flexible work schedules, and other offerings that go beyond traditional medical and retirement plans.
  • Investing in lifestyle and experience rewards – such as learning and development stipends or travel benefits – that emphasize employee recognition, wellbeing, and community impact, among other priorities.

The good news: HR practitioners don’t have to start from scratch. Many organizations have a foundation for building a total rewards program, and with the right strategy, HR can unlock its full potential.

Continued education and upskilling, like earning a SHRM Specialty Credential, can help HR practitioners expand their skillset and learn new strategies for unlocking that potential and crafting effective rewards programs.

Understand employees’ needs so HR can successfully advocate for them. Total rewards must be rooted in two things: employee experience and organizational objectives – like talent acquisition, retention, and engagement – and it’s up to HR to help bridge the gap between the two.  

While leaders tend to think they do a good job of taking care of their employees, employees often feel the opposite – that leaders are focused on their own needs rather than their employees’ needs.

HR can help bring employees’ actual wants and needs to the forefront of total rewards offerings by:

  •  Evaluating the employee experience from the employee perspective by conducting surveys and “stay interviews.”
  • Understanding that supporting employees with the right tools and resources can help them achieve their professional potential.
  • Crafting total rewards strategies based on data, which helps guide benefits choices that are truly valuable to employees and sound for the business.

By leveraging knowledge about employees and the organization, HR can ensure that employees’ needs are represented fairly and accurately when crafting total rewards programs.

Establish HR as a strategic partner to business decision-makers. Executive buy-in and approval is a necessary part of implementing a total rewards program.

To be seen as a strategic business partner, HR practitioners need to speak the language of business decision-makers. Understanding each business leader’s priorities and showing how total rewards offerings can support those specific priorities can help HR practitioners build trust with executives and lead to better outcomes.

For example, a CFO is likely to be interested in how a total rewards program could affect employee productivity, while a CTO may want to hear more about how the program could contribute to the organization’s transformation strategy.

Demonstrating how investment in a total rewards program can drive positive business outcomes can help HR secure organizational support of the program.

Driving Total Rewards Success is a Complex and Ongoing Process

Designing an effective total rewards program that meets the expectations of today’s employees and supports organizational goals can be a challenge – one that HR is uniquely positioned to solve. HR practitioners have the potential to advance total rewards initiatives by building a strategic partnership with business decision-makers, understanding and advocating for employee needs, and deepening expertise in total rewards [KJ2] offerings.

Doing this requires ongoing evaluation and evolution of existing rewards programs, a commitment to staying on top of emerging workplace trends and employee needs, and investment in continuing education and development opportunities, like the SHRM Total Rewards Specialty Credential. Learn more about the Specialty Credential and start advancing your total rewards expertise today.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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