Blue Beyond Consulting

Total Rewards 101

Why total rewards strategies are important—and the strategies and must-know advice for developing your total rewards program

At a time when so much is changing about how businesses operate, one of the most fascinating and impactful frontiers of innovation is in the employee benefits space. Forward-thinking brands and businesses are increasingly embracing a total rewards mindset.

Total rewards describe the full package of benefits and advantages that enhance the employee experience: the programmatic piece of the employee value proposition that answers the question every talented professional is asking themselves: why should I pick this company over another?

In an increasingly competitive hiring landscape, attracting and retaining great talent has arguably never been more important. Unsurprisingly, an attractive total rewards package has evolved very quickly from something that is nice to have, to something that’s absolutely essential.


Show me the money AND the benefits

Employees today expect more from their employer—and those expectations extend well beyond the size of their paycheck. Financial compensation is part of it, of course, but it’s just one piece of a larger puzzle. Total rewards include recognition programs; physical, financial, and emotional wellbeing initiatives; professional development opportunities; and a range of other benefits such as flexible work arrangements.

In the midst of an accelerating benefits arms race, companies both literally and figuratively can’t afford to have an unattractive total rewards profile. Employees want it all. And if you won’t give it to them, someone else will. Glassdoor and other platforms to rate employers means that the information is out there. Talented professionals are more educated and informed when it comes to benefits, and they are comparing notes. 

In other words: today’s employees aren’t just more demanding, they are more sophisticated. And their priorities have expanded beyond financial stability to encompass bigger and more nuanced questions about what their career and compensation look like and how it impacts their personal and professional goals. Work-life balance is a top-line priority for more professionals, a trend that has been dramatically accelerated by the pressures of a global pandemic.

What follows is a review of accepted best practices and priorities when it comes to designing and implementing a competitive total rewards package, and the benefits that can accrue from doing so in a way that has a substantive and sustained impact on employee wellbeing and a stronger professional culture.



Empower the right voices and stakeholders

One of the first questions you need to answer is who should be involved in the creation of your total rewards strategy. Key executives and decision-makers are obviously important, especially HR professionals and talent leaders who are on the ground listening to employees’ concerns and dealing with employee issues on a daily basis. The advice of a partner with specialized expertise in the total rewards space can also be enormously beneficial. And one of the most underappreciated sources of input is the employees themselves. It’s vitally important to understand what your employees want and need, and that means listening to their feedback. Don’t just throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks.

Be thoughtful and deliberate about designing a package of benefits that meets the needs of your company and your people. Use surveys and focus groups to get employee feedback, and make sure to take full advantage of both exit and stay interviews. Don’t write off employees who are leaving: they can be an incredibly rich source of meaningful feedback and insight.

“In today’s talent environment, information about benefits and rewards is out there and easily accessible. Prospective employees are comparing companies when making decisions, and many will make an intentional decision to receive less compensation to work for an organization that demonstrates values that align with their own. This includes the focus on employee wellbeing as well as leadership on societal issues. ”

Jodie Walls, Consultant


Stand for something

Many employees will choose less compensation for the right situation—or because a company stands for something that aligns with their values and priorities. People want to feel good about what they do and where they work, and the mindset that a job is more than a job is increasingly prevalent.

Employees today don’t just see their work as a means to a financial end, but an expression and an affirmation of how they see themselves. That is an incredibly potent force that can have a tremendous influence on employee decision-making.



Make the connection

Too many companies pick their rewards programs and employee benefits without any kind of overarching strategic goals in mind. Consider each piece of your total rewards program in the context of how it connects to your overall business strategy. Does it align with your company’s mission and what matters to your people?

Many of these benefits are not cheap, and your goal should be to maximize the impact of these investments by making sure they matter and that they resonate with your employees. Fundamentally, your total rewards program should facilitate an outstanding and holistic employee experience: not just a potpourri of random perks, but a coordinated and strategic constellation of benefits.



Talk about it

While some companies are evolving quickly in their total rewards efforts, far too many employers still find themselves behind the curve. Even those that do offer an attractive and competitive suite of total rewards often fall short when it comes to publicizing those benefits.

Even the best employee benefits are of limited value as a recruiting and retention tool unless people know about them. The ability to articulate the value of what you do is essential. Professionals in the total rewards space can help a company construct a branded narrative to make that happen, with a consistent look and feel and messaging elements that resonate both inside and outside the company.

That ability to talk about your total rewards can trigger a positive feedback loop, making it easier for employees themselves to consciously or unconsciously serve as brand ambassadors, sharing their benefits and experiences with peers and on social media platforms. This virtual word of mouth is enormously valuable to your brand. 



Make it accessible

It might sound obvious, but a common pain point for companies is failing to put all their different benefits and programs in a place where employees can easily access them. A user-friendly, accessible platform will be utilized and appreciated much more than a number of individual websites with different logins and non-intuitive interfaces. If a program is tough to access or understand, it simply won’t get used.

Something as simple as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) contact number being buried at the bottom of a web page can have a surprisingly large effect on how many employees take advantage of the services on offer. Treat your employees like you would a client: make your services simple, easy, and frictionless to learn about and take advantage of.



Keep it going

The ongoing impact of a strong total rewards program on a company’s ability to recruit, hire, and train new talent is profound. But to derive maximum benefit, communicating the employee value proposition can’t be a one-off: investing in making valued employees want to stay is hugely beneficial.

This is why strong total rewards communication is so important at every stage of an employee’s lifecycle: from attracting and recruiting, to onboarding, to continuing to articulate the value proposition to them throughout their career.

“A measurable byproduct of an effective total rewards program is more engaged employees. Employees are more likely to stay motivated and work hard on behalf of the company because they will feel like the company is investing back into them.”

Gabby Tharkur, Consultant


Review and revisit

Similarly, you can’t just set it and forget it. Your program can and should change over time as employee priorities and perspectives evolve. Consider how much the professional landscape has changed since the start of 2020, for example. It’s important to benchmark your total rewards offerings against industry standards, reviewing every two years or so to make sure you are competitive and assessing if you have the right rewards, if the right people are eligible for those rewards, and if your benefits programs are aligned with your values and your mission.

That comparison can’t just be against competitors in your industry, but should consider the roles of professionals across different departments. IT professionals have opportunities in a wide range of industries, for example. Companies commonly conduct this kind of granular benchmarking with salaries, but are not as diligent about doing it with total rewards in mind.



Track your progress

Finally, track your progress over time. If you’ve followed the principles outlined above, you can expect to see a wide range of potentially significant benefits—and those benefits can be monitored with metrics and measurables. Hiring metrics will improve. Levels of job satisfaction should increase, as will your ability to retain top talent—even in competitive markets and industries. You will see noticeable employee engagement, motivation, and productivity. And with improved performance comes more revenue and profitability. Your ability to meet your business objectives will be enhanced.

A strong professional culture isn’t an abstract goal, it’s a very real and substantive asset with powerful bottom-line benefits. Studies have consistently shown the very real and sometimes dramatic connection between a strong culture and strong financial performance. At a time when the benefit of benefits are more evident than ever, that connection should be more than enough to keep decision-makers laser focused on cultivating a strong, strategic, and sustainable package of total rewards. 


Rethink Total Rewards to win the talent war

When a global investment banking company was faced with challenges communicating the value of its benefits while combating employee attrition, it was clear the organization needed to rethink its strategy for engaging current and prospective employees. Even with a top-tier benefits program, it was clear the organization needed a new approach to attracting and retaining talent. Enter Blue Beyond.

Working closely with this organization, we used the insights gathered from interviews with the project team and stakeholders to craft an entirely new and refreshed total rewards strategy and narrative for communicating its value to employees.

Want to see the details?

You can read more about how we helped this organization achieve success by reading our case study.