#TRV2020 Session Recap: Rearchitecting Your Total Rewards Pie to Drive Employee Connection

July 9, 2020 Sarah Mulcahy

3-minute read

Rob Schmitter

Nearly everything about the way we work has evolved – perhaps permanently – over the last four months. How about the way we reward employees? Is it time for organizations to finally rethink their approach?

Rob Schmitter, principal solutions architect at Workhuman®, kicked off his WorldatWork 2020 Total Resilience Conference session with this poll question. A majority of attendees, 51%, responded: “Yes, the time has come!”

Connection matters

So most HR and total rewards professionals agree change is needed, but what does the future of reward look like? Rob argued that it comes down to the simple concept of human connection. We need it now more than ever. As Brené Brown eloquently puts it: “Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social disconnection.”

And yet, that’s the risk many organizations face right now. The workforce is distributed, employees are stressed, and burnout is very real. Employees will remember how you treated them when the world stood still during the pandemic and as we enter a new phase. “Our responsibility is figuring out how to drive employee productivity and energy during this challenging time,” said Rob. The opportunity is to create more connection, purpose, and belonging.

Why traditional pay is broken

Many of the HR policies and procedures we follow today were created for a workplace devoid of technology. Departments were siloed, access to information was difficult to maintain, and management was hidden in corner offices. Annual performance reviews, annual salary planning, annual benefit enrollment, annual goalsetting – this all came from the same era. “Annual anything isn’t often enough to drive connections and meaningful moments,” said Rob.

And from a business perspective, these legacy programs also aren’t delivering sufficient return on investment. Rob shared a quote from Laura Sejen, global chief of rewards at Willis Towers Watson: “Companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on these disappointing programs. If this were any other business process, certainly we’d all have moved to improve the ROI by now.”

What’s more, data from SHRM reveals only 37% of organizations believe their base pay programs are effective at differentiating pay and driving performance. Another 33% of companies pay incentives to employees who do not meet expectations. If HR’s responsibility to the organization is to drive productivity, is there a better way?

The ROI of frequency

The antidote to a broken annual process is to reward more people more frequently, said Rob. There are many emotional, physical, and social benefits to expressing gratitude. And those benefits play out at an organizational level through increased trust, lower voluntary turnover, increased engagement, and better performance. 

Increasing the frequency with which employees are recognized does not necessarily mean you need more budget, either. Rob used the example of a seed that requires nurturing over time to grow. You wouldn’t flood a plant with water all at once at the beginning of spring and then never again. For a plant to thrive and grow, it needs a little bit of water and sun every day throughout the year. 

The same is true for employees. Rather than spending most of your rewards budget on a lump sum annual bonus, that same budget could instead be distributed in smaller micro-bonuses throughout the year. Even better, employees can be empowered to give each other this recognition in the moment when they see someone demonstrating company values or doing their job well. 

“Connection times frequency equals productivity,” concluded Rob. Recognition and rewards make up one piece of your broader total reward strategy. This piece can be a lot more efficient and effective by embracing these concepts of connection and frequency.


3 Ways to Connect with Workhuman – and Save – at This Year’s Virtual #TRV2020

Total Rewards 2019 Recap: Disruption Is Here to Stay

Time to Get Real with Rewards

About the Author

Sarah Mulcahy

Sarah is senior content marketing manager at Workhuman. When not writing and reading about all things culture, leadership, recognition, and appreciation, she enjoys iced coffee, running, and spending time with her daughters, Mabel and Eva.

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