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How Effective Communication Can Ensure Your Total Rewards Meet Employee Expectations

By Tom Starner | 3-min read


According to Alison Avalos, Director of Research and Certification at WorldatWork, setting and meeting employee expectations in a total rewards and compensation situation will go a long way in building employee engagement and attracting and retaining talent. That is, if you use the right blend of high-tech and high-touch.

“Managing employee expectations is part science, part art,” Avalos says, adding that it often comes down to talking with a workforce and understanding their compensation and benefit desires, meaning what they expect in exchange for their time, effort, and energy while on the job.

Challenges in Setting Expectations

Employers, Avalos says, also must think carefully about how they discuss and cast the rewards and compensation process. In other words, they need to consider what expectations their communications might create in employees’ minds.

For example, a more traditional employer may not currently offer flexible work benefits, but might decide to start incorporating flexibility into their total rewards offering. The employer could then launch a focus group or talk to employees, asking questions about what kind of work flexibility they desire. Would employees like to be able to work remotely? What technology would they need to do that?

However, just asking these basic questions could set off some mental fireworks in employees’ minds. They might immediately decide that remote work automatically means working from home, the local coffee shop, or in the park with their kids. It could also conjure up visions of free laptops, smart phones, or other devices.

“This type of reaction can happen with a few simple, innocent questions,” Avalos says.

Avalos believes it’s essential to think very carefully about early employee touchpoints. In short: Don’t create an expectation that you can’t or don’t want to deliver; ask very generic questions. HR may even need to put some additional conversation into the mix.

“They can say, ‘We are looking at everything, but we’re not making any promises yet,’” she says, adding that the purpose is to make it clear you are trying to understand what’s needed. Then, you will pair their feedback with what makes sense for the business, both logistically and financially.

“You’ve got to manage expectations from the beginning and realize that HR and the employer play a role in how those expectations are initially created,” Avalos says.

Messages that Reflect Workforce Reality

Avalos shared a story of how Disney used communications to connect its 200,000-employee workforce with its total rewards strategy. It took a segmented approach to ensure key messages were relevant and relatable to employees across its diverse business units.

Disney’s goal was to connect employees with its employee value proposition (EVP) across Disney corporate, which includes theme parks, retail, ESPN, ABC, Pixar and a host of other entities.

According to Avalos, Disney segmented its messaging based on the types of employees and the realm of their work. In this way it could ensure the EVP resonated within the proper context of each business unit.

Disney tailored one communication segment to theme park employees, taking into consideration their work schedules and where they primarily get their information. Theme park workers are not generally sitting at a computer, so it used more face to face and printed materials to engage them. The theme-park communications also referred to employees as “cast members,” reflecting the terminology used within that segment of the company.

At ESPN, another division within Disney, employees mainly work in a newsroom, on location, or as technicians (sound, camera). So Disney primarily sent messages to this segment through digital channels like e-mail. Avalos explains that, like Disney, employers looking to set and meet expectations should take a segmented approach to communication.

Attracting Talent and Boosting Retention

Success in setting and meeting expectations about your total rewards offerings is likely to have a highly positive impact on both attracting and retaining talent. The idea here is to be transparent, Avalos says. Whatever you do, don’t overpromise. Deliver exactly what you said you would deliver. “If employers focus on transparency and honesty, it can produce a positive culture and boost retention,” she says.

“Retention is, in part, based on how well employees understand the EVP, including compensation and benefits,” Avalos says. “Setting and meeting employee expectations by getting to know employees, communicating clearly, and delivering on promises will play a key role in the success of a total rewards strategy.”