By: Ber Leary on March 6th, 2024

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How to Attract & Retain With Your Employee Total Rewards Program

Total Rewards

Salary increases are a major point of concern for most employers right now. Recent data shows that most employers plan to offer increases of around 3.5% to 4.1% this year. This will put pressure on salary structures—but still might not meet employee expectations. 

Download an example Total Rewards statementBut here’s the good news: compensation isn’t just about salary. In this guide, we’ll talk you through Total Rewards and the holistic approach to compensation and show you how to create a rewards program for employees that attracts candidates. We’ll also help you design an offer to help you engage and retain your existing team.  

Table of Contents

  1. What is Total Rewards in HR? 
  2. What are the five pillars of Total Rewards for employees
  3. Can a Total Rewards program really attract and retain employees? 
  4. Total Rewards: Compensation 
  5. Total Rewards: Benefits
  6. Total Rewards: Work-life balance
  7. Total Rewards: Employee Recognition
  8. Total Rewards: Professional Development
  9. Building your Total Rewards offer

What is Total Rewards in HR? 

Employees earn more than just a salary. Each job offers additional forms of compensation, which we can roughly divide into two categories:  

  • Tangible: Compensation with an objective cash value, such as salary, perks, benefits, paid leave, and funding for education.  
  • Intangible: Anything that benefits the employee, such as flexible working, well-being support, recognition, and professional development. While you can’t always put a dollar value on these benefits, they offer meaningful value to the employee.  

The Total Rewards approach assesses all of these tangible and intangible forms of compensation and communicates them to employees. 

By doing so, you’ll help your team understand the total value that they derive from their job. With this information, people can accurately compare your compensation package with other employers’ offers.  

What are the five pillars of Total Rewards for employees? 

Total Rewards defines five categories of rewards. Some are tangible, some are intangible, and others might be a mix of both.  

Here’s an overview of the five categories.  

1. Compensation 

Salary is the main component of your compensation structure, but it’s not the only one. You might also offer commissions, signing bonuses, profiting sharing, 401(k) contributions, or equity.  

2. Benefits 

Most employees will expect health insurance for themselves and their families. Others will seek out benefits like dental cover, gym membership, or company vehicles. Remote working and flexible hours are sometimes listed as benefits, but many team members see them as must-have requirements these days.  

3. Work-life balance

The last few years have transformed the way people think about their work-life balance. Remote work has allowed employees to see an alternative to the 9-to-5 grind. In this alternative model, people deeply value opportunities to spend time with family, work on their education, and care for their well-being.  

4. Employee Recognition 

When people exceed expectations, they deserve to be recognized. Ideally, this will happen within a formal recognition structure, such as performance bonuses tied to key metrics. Employees also value less tangible forms of recognition, such as written commendations from leaders.  

5. Career development 

Training and education can help people level up their careers, which will help increase their total lifetime earnings. Employees know this, which is why they seek out companies that will invest in professional development and provide opportunities to earn valuable experience.  

Can a Total Rewards program really attract and retain employees? 

If you’re a pragmatist, you might wonder how much the Total Rewards approach can influence a candidate. Will someone really turn down a substantial salary hike just because you offer them remote working and professional development?  

And it’s true – when a candidate has multiple offers, salary is often the deciding factor.  

But it’s not the only factor, especially after the pandemic. Recent events have impacted the way people think about their lives and their work. Let’s take a look at how some of those big changes have manifested.  

Want to create a Total Rewards program for your employees? Focus on value.  

All of these changes are changes in perceived value.  

For example, before remote working became common, most employees didn’t perceive commuting as an unfair burden. But now that people are aware of the remote alternatives, they see that commuting uses their personal resources. Gas money comes from their salary; commuting time impacts their work-life balance.  

Other examples include:  

  • Flexible working schedules: A flexible schedule offers a better work-life balance. This can have tangible benefits, such as savings on childcare costs.  
  • Well-being options: Work environments that promote well-being will help improve overall health. For employees, this means lower medical bills and fewer opportunities missed due to illness. 
  • Training and mentoring: Professional development is an investment in the future. Time spent on training and mentoring today will lead to higher salary payments tomorrow.   

The trick is to look at your Total Rewards from the employee’s perspective. Are your rewards offering meaningful value to the individual?  

A reward is only a reward if it offers value to the employee. 

With this in mind, let’s look closer at how to provide value in each of the five categories of Total Rewards.  

Download an example Total Rewards statement

Total Rewards: Compensation 

Satisfaction with salary is one of the most accurate predictors of employee retention. If people are unsatisfied with pay, they’re unlikely to stick around for the long term. That’s why 40% of leaders say that their main priority for the coming year is a full compensation review 

That’s a concern when 41% of employees report that they feel underpaid. It means that nearly half of all workers are retention risks. If another company offers a higher salary, you might end up losing your best people.  

3 steps to make your salaries competitive 

Salaries are a balancing act. You have to keep your salary structure competitive, but you also have to think about fiscal responsibility and business resilience. The best way to balance all of these things is to get organized:  

1. Benchmark against rival employers 

Salary benchmarking involves looking at comparable salaries on offer elsewhere. You’ll need a reputable source of salary survey data to get started. After that, you’ll need to match the data according to job function, locale, and company size.   

Salary survey data is available from many third-party providers. Use this data to check your salaries against the market average and see if you are an employer of choice.  

2. Stick to a disciplined salary structure 

When you’re trying to sign a talented candidate, it’s tempting to offer them a massive starting salary. This approach can certainly help get the contract signed, but it could lead to further issues down the line. For example, what happens when the rest of your team learns that they’re getting less than the new guy?  

Define a salary structure that allows you to live within your means while also competing with rival employers. Once you have that structure in place, be sure to stick to it. This discipline will help ensure your business's resilience in the long run.   

3. Review all existing salaries 

Recent events, such as the Great Resignation and the cost of living crisis, have disrupted existing salary structures, and many employees feel under-compensated. 

Now is a good time to review all salaries and chart out each employee’s salary growth. If anyone has been left behind, think about ways that you can bring them closer to the team average.  

Remember, salary isn’t everything 

Everyone wants to have the standard of living that comes from having a good job. But salary isn’t the only factor that decides whether people accept an offer or stay in their current role.  

A Harvard Business Review study found that 90% of people would choose a lower salary if it meant doing more meaningful work. Other factors, such as company culture and personal relationships, can often be just as important as rewards.  

So, if you can’t compete on salary alone, don’t give up. There are other ways to wow candidates and secure your current team.  

Total Rewards: Benefits 

Benefits play a crucial role in employee satisfaction, and team members are often loyal to companies that offer outstanding health coverage, supportive EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), or generous paid leave.  

3 ways to provide meaningful benefits 

As with all elements of Total Rewards, the most important thing is to understand people’s needs and tailor your benefits offering to suit them. Here are a few recent developments to bear in mind when thinking about rewards:  

1. People take their well-being more seriously than ever 

Is your job a matter of life or death? It’s a question everyone asked during the pandemic when trying to establish who counted as an Essential Worker. It’s also a question that many employees are now still asking themselves. Work can have a massive impact on your health, from job-related stress, to sitting at a desk all day, to the pressure to come in when you’re feeling ill.  

Employees are now thinking more about their well-being. They want benefits that will support a healthy lifestyle. That means better health coverage, as well as gym membership and exercise options. They also want structural benefits, such as remote working and flexible work hours. EAPs that offer mental health support are also a big attraction. 

2. Remote and hybrid teams need different kinds of benefits 

New patterns of working lead to new employee requirements. For example, an on-premises gym is an excellent perk for on-premises staff. But it’s not so great for those who live a hundred miles away. Remote employees might prefer other options, such as membership of a fitness app like Pelaeton.  

Rather than try to build a one-size-fits-all benefits offering, it’s best to create different offerings for different audiences. Remember, you may need to cater for:  

  • Fully on-site employees 
  • Fully remote employees 
  • Hybrid workers who split their weekly schedule between home and office 

3. Paid time off is always attractive 

Additional PTO is a vital benefit as it offers something that money can’t buy: time. But it’s worth bearing in mind that you also need to promote an organizational culture that allows people to use their PTO allowance. Many employees finish the year with a PTO balance because there’s too much pressure to stay in the office and not take vacations.  

Total Rewards: Work-life flexibility 

Remote work and flexible working are hugely popular benefits. According to one study, employees said that a remote working option would be better than an 8% raise. 

If you’re hiring, this could mean a rare opportunity to secure new talent.  

3 ways to be a more flexible employer 

First, it’s important to understand that people don’t necessarily want remote work or flexible hours. What they really want is an employer who understands their needs and helps them achieve a sustainable work-life balance. Here are some things you can do to be that employer:  

1. Listen to what people need 

Everyone wants something different. Parents need flexible hours so they can reduce their expenditure on childcare. People who live far away want to work remotely, allowing them to avoid a lengthy commute. But Gen Z workers might prefer to be in an office where they can network and bond with colleagues.  

Talk to your people and find out what they really need. Flexible employers give everyone options so that they can choose the working patterns that meet their unique requirements. The more choice you can offer, the more your team will appreciate you.  

2. Build a hybrid team culture 

Around 30% of leaders say that their biggest concern with remote work is the effect on organizational culture. It’s true that remote teams will have a transformative impact on culture, but this doesn’t have to be a negative. With some planning and oversight, you can develop a new culture that suits your changing environment.  

The biggest challenge is to avoid creating two distinct cultures. Remote and in-office workers are all part of the same team, so they’ll need to communicate in the same way. Work towards building a hybrid culture that brings everyone together, no matter where they work.  

3. Avoid bias towards any one group 

Bias is a valid concern in a hybrid environment. People in the office are more visible than their remote colleagues, which means that they’re more likely to get picked first for projects. This could disadvantage remote and hybrid workers, who might not get the same opportunities.  

Make sure that all leaders understand the importance of keeping remote workers in the loop. Even simple things, like involving them in office conversations, can help make everyone feel like they’re on a level playing field. Get this right, and you’ll prove to employees and candidates that you are a truly flexible employer.  

Total Rewards: Employee Recognition 

Some individuals are a little more innovative, more focused, or harder working than the rest of the team. High performers such as these can turn a good company into a great one and help you achieve your strategic goals.  

But are these high performers being recognized for their contribution? 

An employee recognition program can help ensure that everyone gets what they deserve. And programs of this nature can be a major attractor for smart, ambitious candidates who want a chance to prove themselves, especially if that recognition has a monetary value, such as a performance bonus.  

3 important things to know about recognition programs 

Recognition programs are also an important part of your overall people strategy. Let’s take a look at how a great recognition program can be a win-win for you and your team.  

1. Recognition is a great way to tackle falling engagement 

Employee engagement is on the decline again, possibly due to issues such as the cost of living crisis and mass layoffs. Gallup's annual survey shows that only 32% of employees describe themselves as actively engaged, while 18% are actively disengaged. 

Remember, employee engagement is not just about productivity. It’s also a major factor in employee retention. Engaged employees are far more likely to stick around for the long term, which makes it easier for you to build a winning team.  

2. Recognition programs are a major driver of organizational culture 

Recognition programs naturally push your team in certain directions. If you offer a bonus for high sales, the team will focus on sales. If you reward people who get great customer reviews, people will focus on service. And this focus ultimately feeds into your overall organizational culture.  

Many organizational cultures are in a transitional phase right now. It’s a good idea to think about how you can use rewards to nudge people in a certain direction. For instance, you can help nurture a hybrid team culture by giving praise and issuing commendations to people who excel at using communication platforms like Slack and Zoom to bring the team together.  

3. Practical rewards go a long way – but so does a thank you 

Most employees would prefer to be recognized in the form of cash. Whether that’s a bonus, a raise, or gift cards, monetary rewards can show that you are serious about rewarding outstanding performance. Employees also value career boosts, such as promotions, extra training, or the chance to work on exciting projects. 

But don’t underestimate the power of saying, “Thank you.” Public recognition of employee achievements can help people feel seen and valued, especially if that message comes from senior leadership. This is the ultimate purpose of a recognition program – to let people know that you appreciate their hard work.  

Total Rewards: Professional Development 

For people at the beginning of their careers, professional development is the greatest reward of all. Many graduate-level employees will consider an offer that will give them the chance to learn and grow – even if that means turning down other offers with better salaries.  

Professional development is also key to rectifying some of the DEI setbacks of recent years. Record numbers of women have left the workforce in recent years, creating a growing gender gap at work. One survey found that 93% of human resources leaders say that their main priority is developing women leaders.  

There are lots of ways to provide professional development to your team, such as:  

  • In-house training 
  • Tuition reimbursement 
  • Mentoring 
  • Networking 
  • Allowing people to work on challenging projects 

Professional development is good for everyone. Your employee learns new skills that will increase their lifetime earnings while you get to level up your existing team.  

3 important factors in professional development planning 

What kind of training do your people actually need? Again, it depends on the individual. Here are three things to bear in mind:  

1. Gen Z desperately need to get their careers started 

Members of Gen Z have been entering the workforce for the past five years or so. Two of those years were mostly lost to the pandemic, which means that they have a lot of catching up to do. Gen Z job seekers are eager to speak to employers who can offer mentorship and opportunities to expand their professional network.  

Gen Z also needs practical experience. Graduates typically have a lot of theoretical knowledge but need to consolidate their education by doing some hands-on work. You will be able to attract this kind of talent if you offer people a chance to roll up their sleeves and get into some meaty projects.   

2. Established employees might be worried about digital transformation 

People who are further along in their career paths also require training. Digital transformation remains one of this cohort’s main concerns. They worry that technology will move ahead so quickly that they will get left behind.  

People also need IT training just to help cope with the new world of remote work. For example, home workers won’t have access to tech support. This means that they will need to learn how to diagnose and repair computer problems on their own. Most importantly – all remote workers will need complete training on cybersecurity measures, with regular refresher courses.  

3. Technology provides cost-effective methods of training delivery 

E-learning is now commonplace in most work environments. Learning Management Systems (LMS) options today make it easy to educate people at their own pace. Plus, you can deliver training to people even when they’re not in the office.  

It’s also worth noting that there are a ton of educational materials available online. Sites such as SkillShare, Udemy, and LinkedIn offer professional-level video training materials for every subject imaginable. This is a cost-effective option for businesses on a budget.  

Building your employee rewards strategy

How do you attract, engage and retain great people while also maintaining a healthy budget?  

The Total Rewards model is one answer to that question. As we’ve seen above, your employees get much more than just a salary.  

If you get things right, your people will also get great benefits, a chance to progress their careers, and a motivating recognition program. Best of all, they’ll have the chance to build a work-life balance that allows them to enjoy all seven days of each week.  

Building a great offer isn’t always easy. If you need some help, you can reach out to Helios HR and talk to one of our consultants about your next steps. Book a no-obligation consultation call today and find out how to build a great offer for your people.  

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