Skip to main content
Success Story

Strengthening talent retention at a social network company

How to retain employees through Total Rewards in a competitive market

February 13, 2020

In a tech world where poaching top talent abounds, one company found a way to make their employees want to stay.
Compensation Strategy & Design|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing

The challenge

With millions of users, this social networking company is an engine of mass influence. Yet the company is only just over a decade old. No longer a start-up, but not yet an old tech behemoth with boundless funding. This meant when big budget tech giants would come sniffing around, the organization was sometimes at a loss for how to protect its people.

“The tech industry is highly, highly competitive,” said the organization’s vice president people experience and chief diversity officer. “Every single day, we're trying to attract someone into the organization, and they've already got three or four offers that we're trying to compete with. So we do have trouble attracting the best and brightest.”

Once the company does land a new hire, these tech giants often try to swoop in and take them away. What, then, would make new hires and long-time employees alike want to stay?

“We’ve had to think hard about retention and really try to drive engagement and inclusion to ward off the retention challenges that we have,” the client said.

While the organization is now profitable, it still considers itself to be in the early stages of profitability.

“We can't just go wild throwing a lot of compensation dollars around,” the client said. “We have to be very creative, and really optimize our spending, in terms of what's going to be most meaningful or impactful.”

This has come to mean mirroring the service the company gives customers by elevating the service it gives employees. That looks like cultivating conversations and bringing together diverse voices and perspectives so the organization can listen as well as act and encourage its talent to do the same.

“Change happens through conversation,” the client said.

The approach

What would facilitate those conversations? Willis Towers Watson devised several ways for the company to open the lines of communication with its people and has designed technology solutions that have enabled everyone in the organization to be heard, including traditionally under-represented groups.

First, the team took a hard look at the challenges the organization was facing. These included attracting and retaining top talent, driving engagement and inclusion and elevating employee voices, all while maintaining costs. They looked specifically at People Health Indicators and the related outcomes:

People Health Indicators Outcomes
Fulfilment at work Employee retention or intent to stay
Trust and confidence in the organization Hiring rate and time to fill
Inclusion Internal transfers
Fairness Candidate acceptance rates
Safety on the job Performance
Learning and growth Diversity composition
Manager support Employee engagement
Work and life wellness Perceptions of work culture and climate

Key challenges:

  1. Attracting and retaining top talent
  2. Driving engagement and inclusion
  3. Maintaining costs
  4. Elevating employee voices

Solutions included an employee pulse survey, business resource group and inclusion and diversity surveys, a Willis Towers Watson Total Rewards survey and a listening tour.

Employee pulse survey

Through their twice-yearly employee pulse survey, an engagement survey on its second cycle over the two year time frame, employees gave a good deal of feedback and the organization has been able to foster progress made based on that feedback. For example, the veterans, service members, and military families’ business resource group called out the organization’s leave policy as it related to deployment.

“We were not being competitive enough,” the client said. “That came through that survey and we reacted to that. It was real-time information that we could change on the spot.”

The company also deploys customized surveys for its business resource groups, which focus on gender and racial diversity, to find out from a rewards perspective, whether the company’s value proposition is compelling enough around the things most meaningful to those in these groups.

“I've made changes immediately to some things around maternity and leaves associated with that,” the client said. “We’ve had questions come up about continuing support for surrogacy and egg donation services. These are the type of deep and personal things that have come up through our surveys.”

The listening tour

The company’s leadership, including the CEO, hit the road for a listening tour, visiting every one of the organization’s offices globally. In France, Spain, India and beyond, leadership spent at least one full day with everyone in the office, having deep conversations about their employee experience, including likes and dislikes as well as what is most meaningful.

“We heard things we didn’t know that employees thought we should know,” the client said. “And some of it was tough to hear.”

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, for example, there was a deep conversation that brought some employees to tears around the experiences of the Afro-Brazilian community there.

“If people aren't familiar with Brazil, there's a lot of segmentation and discrimination that happens towards darker skinned Brazilians,” the client said. “No one was aware that our [talent] was being impacted by that in the office. Things that are ugly were happening and we had no idea until we started having these conversations.”

While the intent was to capture employee experience and address challenges programmatically, the process produced much deeper, more impactful information, allowing the company to help elevate the level of changes in the organization.

Total Rewards Optimization

Most recently, the organization partnered with Willis Towers Watson on a Total Rewards Optimization (TRO) survey. The client said it was her second time using the TRO survey, having used it once before at a previous employer. She described the TRO survey as one of the most summative surveys. It leverages conjoint analysis to help assess how those taking the survey value various features, functions and benefits of a product or service.

TRO leverages conjoint analysis to help assess how those taking the survey value various features, functions and benefits of a product or service.

“For us it's substantiated a lot of what we found on our listening tour in some of the conversations that we had,” the client said. “It really gave us the ability to not just understand employee preferences, which certainly came through, but also to really be thinking about managing our spending wisely. It helps us to optimize where we should be putting our dollars based on what is going to have the most employee impact. So a really good set of data has come out of that survey.”

“[The company] was truly a ‘power user’ of our Total Rewards Optimization methodology,” said Norman Ramion, engagement lead from Willis Towers Watson. From the start, the client included representatives from across multiple functions both inside and outside of HR as well as from around the world. “Our meeting agendas were always organized to accommodate different time zones to ensure we had real-time input from people working on the ground in every region where the company operates. This took a lot of additional time and effort, but it really helped maximize inclusiveness in the design process as well as the precision of the questions we asked.”


When you ask employees about rewards, compensation often pops up and the client said people rarely feel like they get absolutely enough. But what came to light from the survey was that managers felt as if they didn't have enough flexibility within the current structure to significantly differentiate the rewards they give to their top performers.

“We have made small changes like widening the ranges, building in a lot more recognition opportunities, changing the structure of the ladders and structural type changes. That's gone a long way to make managers feel like they have more control over really rewarding their best talent,” the client said. “We’ve made a dozen or more changes in this area.”

Pay equity and transparency

Because of the strong culture of conversation and sharing at the company, it came as no shock that one of the things that came through the loudest from the survey was that people wanted to know how they're being rewarded, the process by which they're being rewarded, and they wanted to see and have access to the data.

“We've got a whole transparency initiative that goes through many of the things that we're doing,” the client said. “We've been able to make some changes that have been very meaningful for our employees.”

[The company] is proud to share that it does not have pay equity issues within the organization.

From a pay equity perspective, the company is proud to share that it does not have pay equity issues within the organization. This is evidenced by two years of global pay equity analyses. Unlike a lot of companies, the organization is also sharing the results of these analyses with employees and the board of directors.

“That has gone a long way towards making people feel that the process is fair,” said the client. “We also weave it in from an inclusion and diversity perspective and have quarterly reports where we share our progress around our metrics. We have hard metrics attached to the company and those are two year targets in terms of representation.”

The organization started this two years ago. In the last year, it was on track to meet representation for both women and Black employees, but still behind from a Latinx perspective. But it didn't shy away from sharing the information. Management had a conversation about it and got ideas from their talent around what leadership could do differently and what that experience should look like.

LatinX: a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina).

“Not only did we share that internally with our employees,” the client said. “We shared it with our board and I published that via a blog to the public. So the public and our users can hold us accountable for that progress as well. Those things reinforce what our [employees] were asking for and gives them high confidence in us as an organization.”

Remote work

The company found surprising insights around flexible and remote work as well.

“People just like to have the ability to work when they want and to work where they want,” the client said. “A lot of organizations have been playing around the fringes of this for a while and they allow employees on an as requested basis to have a flexible schedule.”

But what the client is doing is different because a large group of their employees work strictly remotely, unattached to an office. This works for employees who wish to live closer to family or in less expensive parts of the country than where the company is headquartered. And it not only represents cost-cutting for the company, but it also gives the organization the opportunity to work with a completely different and potentially endless talent pool.

The results

The company is already making steady progress across many of its People Health Indicators. The Total Rewards survey showed an overall value rating of 81 in the U.S. and 77 internationally; engagement, learning and growth as well as Total Rewards are all up; and the attrition rate dropped by more than half, with more employees saying they intend to stay with the organization.

The company may not be a tech giant yet in terms of revenues and profits, but by engaging in deep listening and making quick, easy changes to its Total Rewards, the organization has been steadily preserving its top talent.

Contact Us