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If you’ve got it, flaunt it: Using culture to differentiate your Total Rewards

By Michael Tyukodi | February 8, 2022

Celebrate and reinforce the special aspects of your employee experience that employees appreciate.

After spending some time pursuing her master’s degree, my wife recently re-entered the workforce. As she interviewed for her next job, it was easy for her to spot employers with a toxic culture. The tell-tale signs were there, whether it was consistent turnover, repeated recruiting for the same positions, stories of people not being held accountable or a lack of connection to a greater purpose. After each interview, she felt that the role or the organization just wasn’t right.

Then she found what she hadn’t realized she was looking for: an employer with a culture connected to a higher purpose. It treats employees with the same respect it provides to clients, values teamwork and honest communication, trusts employees to manage their work in a way that achieves work-life balance and includes a personable leader who supported his staff as they navigated the pandemic.

There it was. The secret sauce.

Yes, pay is important. But for my wife, the culture and work environment were more important than her base pay. It’s why she took the job and enjoys the work she does.

Inspiration, trust, inclusion, collaboration and support are all key elements that contribute to a high-performing employee experience and a great culture. Recently, WTW’s John Bremen suggested that organizations can counteract wage inflation and ever-present skill shortages by embedding culture into their Total Rewards communications. Here’s how.

Shift the focus from cost to value

For decades, employers have communicated the value of Total Rewards by highlighting the overall cost to employees as “the hidden paycheck.” That method has worked successfully, but it only tells part of the story. Not every program has an employer cost, and not every program can be quantified on an individual level. In addition to cost, employers need to communicate how programs support employees’ needs and offer suggestions on how to optimize their Total Rewards.

Support diversity, equity and inclusion

How can employees be at their best if they can’t be themselves at work? Or if they are themselves but aren’t appreciated for who they are and the unique perspective they bring? Many organizations offer access to employee resource groups, support partners, third-party vendors and volunteer opportunities, and they’re usually right at employees’ fingertips.

But do employees know they exist? How can they get involved? Can they connect these programs to the underlying guiding principle that the organization recognizes the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in their day-to-day work? Communicating these resources as fundamental values and centralizing them within the Total Rewards program shows that the organization celebrates and is committed to equality and diversity.

Provide real examples and employee testimonials

Nothing promotes Total Rewards programs like sharing real-life testimonials of how employees are using them to their benefit. Many years ago, a client wanted to publicize an employee’s significant health transformation through the company’s wellbeing programs. It was a great story and certainly would inspire others to follow their co-worker’s path.

Employers often hesitate to share employee testimonials because of the possibility that the employee will leave the organization and updating content to remove the employee’s name and story is too cumbersome. However, in many cases the value of such a story can outweigh the administrative burden. And with a leading-edge employee experience platform, changes take minutes and shouldn’t get in the way of providing inspirational examples.

That’s it. A great culture should permeate every employee touchpoint. Include a little bit of the secret sauce that makes your organization a great place to work into your Total Rewards communications – and even in every employee experience.

But back to my wife; I failed to mention one important example of the great work environment she has. While she can work remotely, when she does go into the office, she shares cubicle space with Lee, a service dog. Though he’s there to do his job, being able to look at a smiling (and sometimes frowning or pouting) bundle of fur makes it fun for her to make the trip to the office. While not all employers have a Lee, they do have special aspects of their culture that employees appreciate and should be celebrated and reinforced as key elements of Total Rewards.


Senior Director, Employee Experience
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