I was speaking with my father the other day, once a police officer for over 40 years, he held back screaming mobs at Beatles concerts, delivered a baby, faced rioters with petrol bombs (armed with a dustbin lid saying ‘no hot ashes’) and you could say, had a career rich with highs and lows! In those days, ‘wellbeing support’ from his employer, involved a group of men slapping each other's back, offering a phone call if you were involved in catching a criminal and then a ‘well done, you did your job, now get on with it’ mentality. No counselling, no support, no safety net in case it all got too much. He is now 80 so we are talking almost half a century ago and the world has moved on. How far?
The term ‘social safety net’ has been used by analysts, including Gartner, to consider the role of the employer in supporting the overall wellbeing of employees and their families. Gartner identify some key milestones in this area. They start in 1954 with the first ‘employer matching gift programme’ (!) but then, the next recorded step forward is in 2004, when employers offered adoption assistance to staff and then we jump to 2018 with 61% of employers offering employee assistance programmes. Surely there are more?! Maybe the above-market minimum wage, increase in parental leave and continual push for gender equality (still a long way to go, but there have been pushes forward!) have contributed to progress in this area?
Nowadays, HR Directors are encouraged to consider three important aspects to their social safety net (according to Gartner);
• Ensure the best possible employee experience: Expand the bounds of employee experience, especially to account for personal factors, such as family responsibilities.
• Provide dedicated HR function strategy and management: Consider having a chief well-being officer/chief mental health officer or other C-suite roles to advocate for the pandemic-changed needs of employees.
• Offer relevant total rewards: Tackle new compensation challenges, e.g., maintaining compensation for employees unable to work remotely. Being a strong advocate for physical and mental wellbeing benefits.
Juggling the need for both empathy and productivity in a company culture, must feel like a minefield for some, particularly the smaller employers who all want to offer a degree of relevant support in all aspects of mental health; physical, emotional, financial…because to meet experience expectations it must be a personalised social safety net, surely?
HR WILL Humanise Tech
HR brings the human dimension into company-wide tech decisions; 50 years ago that would be about training people to use the CRM system- now it’s about empowering people to enrich their lives. Come on, keep up!
Doing all of this at scale, in an inclusive way, to meet the diverse needs of all great employee experiences requires more than dedicated strategies and a dedicated well-being officer (although raising wellbeing to the c-suite is a great idea in my view!). Having often compared the ‘internal customer experience’ as similar to the desired outcome of the ‘external customer experience’ that marketers are dedicated to, day in, day out, I suggest that engagement, loyalty and advocacy become targets for all Exec teams.
To achieve this with any audience we know that one size does not fit all. You have to offer what is right for each and every individual and then offer them what they need RIGHT NOW.
That is where tech comes in. Love it or loathe it, tech is the only way to identify, en masse, what support is most welcomed by your people, gather that data, analyse it, and then, reach people with the right help and be enabled to monitor how well you, as an employer are doing in your role as a social supporter. I see employers like Ipsen, Ricoh, NHS using the insight they get to offer personalised help and support for financial wellbeing, to become more than the social safety net (let’s aspire to avoid the need for a net?) and instead to empower people to get the right support, education and guidance when it comes to taking care of themselves and their families.
HR can own the story
Not so long ago, PWC surveyed 1,200 organisations in 79 countries to ask them what they thought the future role of the employer involved. Their research concluded that organisations should take the lead now and ‘own the story’ of the future of work, by “building a strong narrative around what they want for their company and their people” in the next 20 years. I hope that retrospective reports show how employee engagement started with a shift in high level decision-making. Companies who adopted wellbeing support strategies that incentivised personalised engagement, encouraged mindset changes for the better and empowered wellbeing improvement will have had a huge advantage over their competitors, attracting and retaining the best talent.
This will have meant not only implementing the right tools and processes, but actively participating in a company-wide culture changes to embrace tech as an essential component of the internal customer experience.
If you are serious about future proofing your business, don’t just give a pat on the back like our parents remember. Give a warm hug instead. Only perhaps do it virtually, digitally and quickly to be ready for when it’s our kids who are running the show.