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Monday, January 12, 2009

Red-carpet retention

Economic slowdown spurs employers to take more aggressive measures to woo, retain employees

Employee Benefit News

By Kelley M Butler

November 1, 2008

In light of the economy's downward slide, holding on to top employees is more important than ever. At September's Benefits Forum & Expo, ... attendees were especially keen to hear speakers' opinions and guidance on "recession-proofing" their businesses by maintaining or - if they could afford it - adding benefits offerings.

Attendees heard two diverging views on how to best roll out the red carpet for employees to make sure they stay in the company fold. On one hand, a speaker encouraged benefits pros to increase benefits around wellness, to the point of incentivizing nearly everything. On the other hand, benefit managers were guided toward a more frugal approach: simply making sure employees understood the value of the benefits that they already have.

Answer the phone, get $75

... At a full-capacity BF&E session, Philia Swam, director of health benefits and employee insurance at Lafarge North America - a building materials firm headquartered in Paris with 8,500 U.S. employees, told attendees of her company's efforts to increase employees' preventive care utilization, disease management enrollment and prescription drug compliance. After spending nearly $91 million in claims in 2007, half of which were expenditures on high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attacks, Lafarge initiated an aggressive wellness approach that boiled down to incentives, incentives and more incentives.

Lafarge pumped more than half a million dollars into wellness incentives and education, Swam said, offering employees gift cards and steak dinners for wellness efforts like completing a health risk assessment, getting an annual physical and participating in the company's disease management program. Even employees who simply accepted the call from the company's disease management nurse were rewarded with a $75 gift card. ...

"We didn't make it about cost," Swam said of the incentive campaign. "We made it about how this will help you and help your family, and to hook them in we simply asked, 'Do you want your steak rare or well done?'"

Fighting one 'R' word with another

... Discussing how benefit managers could "recession-proof" their benefits package, Maia Lucier, director of compensation and benefits at Virginia-based Dimension Data, told BF&E attendees to fight one "R" word with another: retention.

To this end, she said, Dimension Data has issued detailed total compensation statements to show employees there is more to their salary that just what they take home in their paychecks.

"For example, our 401(k) match is 100% vested at all times, and we put that on the statement," she said. "It's made people think twice about considering another job offer when they see that another company might be offering more in base salary but a less generous retirement benefit. We've saved a few employees just with that."...

"It's helped us to leverage both employees' rational and emotional commitment to the company," Lucier explained, as employees both understand the value of what the company offers, while also seeing that the company cares enough to make sure they understand it.

"Because of the economy, benefits have become more and more important; we're seeing a more passionate interest in them than before," she said.

"Even though we can't put any more money toward benefits, this way employees see that we take what we do offer just as seriously."