It is fact that poor food choices lead to poor health. Of course, there are many other contributors, but when food is bad, health almost always follows. In the United States, bad food is often cheap food. We have found ways to feed our country more while providing less of what is truly needed. People don’t starve, but neither the body nor the brain can operate at peak performance. We find ways to keep people alive, but is it really helping them thrive? In the end, this short-term solution creates egregious long-term issues such as obesity, diabetes and airplane seats that are far too small. Every company approaches total rewards with the goal of providing their employees with enough pay to keep a balance between the needs of the workers and the needs of the shareholders. Unfortunately, some companies approach this equation with a “cheap food” mentality. Rather than providing compensation with the intent of employees reaching their potential, compensation is structured to keep people from going hungry. This can mean quick, easy solutions that require less effort on the part of overworked compensation departments. It’s not that compensation departments don’t WANT to provide something better. It’s just that, like a single parent working two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, there just aren’t enough resources to offer healthier choices.
Some companies in an environment of low budgets and limited time succumb to the pressure. Compensation becomes a rote process. Over time the lack of nutrition results in slow, tired employees who just do their job and go home. These companies may find themselves in a spiral where employees have become addicted to the cheap, but flavorful meals. Employees lose their taste for more interesting ingredients and the compensation department may lose some of their skill in preparing them. As things begin to recover, these compensation professionals may find it difficult to get themselves and their staffs re-oriented on a better system. Humans are creatures of habit and habits are difficult to break. They are even more difficult to break when people are tired and lethargic from a poor diet.
Other companies approach the cheap solution as a phase. When possible they provide an occasional healthy program. They work diligently to keep their skills sharp for the time when money is more plentiful and better ingredients can be provided. These companies are preparing for better days and hoping for a turn-around. When the market comes back they will work to build on the successes and transition away from non-optimal practices. In the meantime they are at risk of losing employees to companies with more aggressive and innovative strategies
The most innovative companies take a completely different view. These are the “farmers market” companies. Whenever possible, they skip the convenient grocery stores with bland prepackaged food and pretty, popular ingredients. They instead purchase raw ingredients at a low cost and take the time to learn how to combine things into healthy and sometimes amazing meals. These compensation programs depend on the passion of the compensation professionals, the support of management and the constant education of employees. New ingredients are incorporated into old recipes. Staples provide a foundation while seasonal elements are used when appropriate. Their equivalent of chicken soup may have carrots, onions and celery every season, but may add bok choi in summer, squash in the fall and cactus in the spring.
With these companies, it is understood that minor changes to compensation will happen, but only as required and when they make things better. Some new ingredients are tried in small quantities only to fail and never be used again. Other changes may be unique and find an immediate following within the company. Seldom are the ingredients incredibly high-priced or exotic. More often they are regional, simple and able to be used in a myriad of ways. The best thing about these companies is that the strategy also works when times are good. When budgets open up the food just gets better. The transition is fairly seamless and both the compensation professionals and employees remain interested and satisfied.
We all know the best solution is not always the easiest solution. We seldom see the impact of cutting corners until damage has already been done. Compensation departments might want to evaluate their compensation programs to see if they are providing the healthiest solution for the long-term success of both their employees and company. A cheap program does not have to be a poor solution. Staying focused on providing great compensation means being creative and open to new things, while putting in the effort to do just a bit more from scratch. It is unlikely the prepackaged, boilerplate plan will provide the same results as one created from the hearts and minds of a passionate team. Approach these tight times as an opportunity to do something innovative and perhaps even groundbreaking.