Many steps go into creating truly successful benefits programs, but one that is often overlooked is asking employees what they need. With resources already overtaxed and not enough time to do everything, HR departments figure they know what employees want, so they often skip this step. But why go to all the trouble and expense of designing a program, only to have no one use it?
Getting employee feedback doesn’t have to be a long or complicated process. Schedule a few different meetings with a group of diverse employees to get their opinions. Or send out a short survey. You can even have a series of one-on-one conversations to get candid and honest insights—which is especially useful when tackling sensitive topics.
Time and again, we’ve witnessed how important employee feedback is when it comes to benefits engagement. Recently, we had a ringside seat to a real-life example of how this simple step can change an entire benefits program strategy.
See it in action
Last year, a client of ours was celebrating the one-year anniversary of their enhanced parental leave program. More time off for new parents is universally positive, right? It turned out that extended time away from work brought a host of new problems that no one—neither the HR team nor employees—could have anticipated. For example, employees had no idea what they should do on their first day back from work after being gone for six months. Should they just show up at their desks? How would they adjust to the new reality and schedule of having a baby at home? How would they get up to speed when they return? What about the sensitive issue of breastfeeding? And what if all these issues are so overwhelming that they decide not to return at all? That would create another unforeseen issue: retention.
It was obvious to our client that there needed to be more in place to support these employees as they returned from a long leave of absence, but more of what?
When you don’t know, ask
HR leaders decided that flexible working arrangements were the solution, and they tasked the team with putting that new program in place. But the team in charge of designing benefits programs proposed—and took—an alternate approach: Instead of assuming this solution would be the right one, they wanted to take a few extra weeks and simply ask employees what the company could do to make them feel more supported when they returned to work after a parental leave.
What they learned
Surprisingly, when HR staff questioned employees, flexible schedules were seldom mentioned. Instead, employees voiced these concerns:
- I need help getting up to speed on projects.
- I need more guidance on how to structure my first day back.
- It would be great if my manager welcomed me back and told the team I was returning.
- It would be nice to feel appreciated upon return.
- I feel like I have no one to talk to, with all the stresses of being a new working parent.
We realized, then, that the issue wasn’t flexible working arrangements—or the lack of them—but the need for a more formalized and empathetic process for welcoming employees back. And that process needed to start with managers.
Introducing 'Welcome Back'
The team set about creating and implementing a welcome-back program for both managers and employees. Managers needed training on how to backfill positions, handle sensitive conversations, and reintegrate employees into their teams. Employees needed to know what to do upon return and where to go for support. As part of the program, an alternative work arrangement was also implemented, and managers and employees could discuss the arrangement together.
Now, there’s a solution in place that works for everyone. It encourages employees to take full advantage of the generous leave program, knowing they’ll be welcomed back with open arms when they return.
Successful program design: easy as 1-2-3
We know you work hard at designing programs to meet your employees where they’re at. We encourage you to elevate your efforts by incorporating employee feedback into your process.
And, if you need a hand designing a right-fit program that will solve a problem, we’re always here to help.