Reward is not about money – that is a misconception. Employees need more to avoid being seduced by headhunters. And it doesn’t even have to cost that much.
Among a great many SME leaders, there is still the view that: If I pay the talent I have properly, that’s enough to keep them. This is wrong-headed, begins Nathalie Arteel, co-CEO of Arteel, culture expert and author of the book Durf, leef & onderneem (‘Dare, Live & Be Entrepreneurial’). ‘Your people get calls from headhunters every day, inviting them to prospective interviews. Retaining talent won’t happen by itself; it will take much more than that.’
She herself received an e-mail just yesterday from a woman who decided to leave a large SME after ten years. ‘It was quite understandable. She didn’t feel like she was being heard or that there was any interest in her job. She had been working intensively on a project for over two years now and never received concrete feedback. Then at some point you say: that’s enough now, I’m going somewhere else.’
Is appreciation preferable to pay?
The fact that wages are no longer the determining factor is also demonstrated by several studies. For one in three Belgians, the wage policy is not a motivator. More than half of Belgians say they are looking for meaningful work. Even at large corporations, with attractive pay and numerous additional conditions, a shift is underway.
‘People in a golden cage would rather get ill than miss out on all those benefits’
‘You’ll see less turnover there, though, because these people are stuck in a golden cage. They’d rather get ill than miss out on all those benefits. But the younger generations won’t put up with that anymore – generations Y and Z look past it. If they work for, say, a large bank for two years and don’t feel connected to the values and the mission and don’t feel like they’re doing meaningful work, they’ll be gone.’
This is true even among today’s technology companies, she notes. ‘The Googles and Amazons of this world used to have a much easier time attracting people. They, too, are seeing a shift in that they need to work far more on a strategic valuation approach and their culture.’
Companies can no longer differentiate themselves with hospitalisation insurance, group insurance, babysitting, dry cleaning. Nor are the more modern cafeteria plans in which employees can make more of their own choices, such as between a car or a bicycle, more money or leave days, attractive enough anymore.
‘If your boss is ignoring you, then there’s really no point in offering yoga or fruit’
‘All companies have that these days. These have become hygiene factors. Even if you offer perks like fruit and yoga at work, that doesn’t guarantee that your people will feel truly connected to your organisation.
You can do yoga every day, but if your boss ignores you, forgets it’s your birthday, or never listens to you, there’s no point to any of it. They’re then nothing more than initiatives that seem very nice from the outside. Your people will realise very quickly that what you tell them on the outside isn’t true. It’s about how you make them feel on the inside.’
This is the best recipe
According to Arteel, retaining talent is primarily about connecting, not from the intellect, but from the heart. ‘People need to feel that they’re valued. That means listening to someone, taking the time and giving feedback, first and foremost in a positive and empowering way.
In addition, your people must be given the freedom to work autonomously, make decisions and develop their competencies. Feeling connected to the values and purpose of the company and to each other is the best recipe for retaining and attracting talent.’
‘HR people go with the trends – they think too collectively’
Why is it that companies still don’t apply this recipe? ‘Many HR people go with the trends, with what the market is doing. They launch cafeteria plans, mobility plans, they invest in well-being, implement apps, give refreshment vouchers, salary bonuses, etc.
But that’s thinking too collectively. They think because everyone else is doing it, they must be doing it too, but it’s totally irrelevant. That’s not going to make your people work harder, be less ill, not leave or become a bigger ambassador.
What leaders can do better
I was recently talking to a receptionist who had worked for the same company for 32 years. I asked if they had done anything for her in 30 years. She had seen something show up on her account, but no one had talked to her about it. I’ve often heard that from people. They suddenly get something deposited in their account and they don’t even know what it’s for. Companies don’t realise that, hey, they won’t dwell on that.’
‘Just putting a gift on someone’s desk doesn’t work either’
Employers automatically think that reward is about money, so it’s not necessary at all, then? ‘No, even just taking the time to write a personal message is enough. Sometimes, it doesn’t take any more than that. There are plenty of studies indicating that people want to feel heard, seen and validated. If you can’t do that, all the rest is pointless – it’s wasted money.’
What can leaders do better? ‘Reward and value have to do with everything that is not monetary. That means you start defining certain milestones in an employee’s career and you set up a personalised way of rewarding them.
Programs that help people feel valued
Importantly, at the time of such a key milestone, you can create a positive interaction, you award points, or a voucher, or a message as a leader. So just putting a gift on someone’s desk doesn’t work. You can give appreciation without a reward, but you can never give a reward without appreciation.’
But someone has to monitor all this, right? Isn’t that a lot of work? ‘We have programmes for that and they just make the whole appreciation process far more personal, even helping the leader to appreciate her or his people in a connective way.
If the criteria are determined in advance, then all of that can be automated. If you have to do all those things individually, you risk forgetting half your people. So it’s essential that you have a good process in place that ensures people are not forgotten. And that you make sure the leader is involved to make it even more personal.
Only, to date, this is very often not the case. Many companies are not able to provide the right data for their HR – they still have some pretty awful systems. Then, when you forget someone who has worked for you for five years and that person sees another person not being forgotten, you’re giving them the perfect recipe for saying bye, bye.’
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