Employee enrichment retains talent, boosts productivity

by Jennifer Rosenzweig

After years of frozen compensation and reduced workforces, employers are looking for better ways to attract and retain the right talent—at the very time many burned-out employees are poised to jump ship.

There is no doubt that the competition for talent and loyalty will be fierce and critical to business survival.

The effects of the recession, coupled with the emergence of a multicultural/multigenerational workforce and the added influence of globalization, have helped turn the spotlight on innovative employers that seem to have magic formulas for attracting and keeping their employees happy and productive despite the economic forces around them.

Take the example of SAS Institute. This North Carolina software company has long offered personal employee perks at its headquarters campus that include: on-site child care, a medical care facility, a fitness center, an extensive art collection and even a 1.8-mile “bluebird trail” with 25 birdhouses for employees to explore. These activities have helped keep loyalty high and turnover low.

Then, of course, there’s Google, famous for employee perks like massages, yoga, dance classes, piano lessons, on-site pingpong, oil changes and dry cleaning.

Helping the whole employee

SAS and Google are two examples of companies that, consciously or not, have tapped into new ways of motivating employees. Call it “employee enrichment.”

Employee enrichment addresses work and nonwork fac­tors. It attempts to enhance employees’ lives with the expec­tation that the better a person’s well-being, the better that person performs. By allowing their employees to address both their personal and professional needs within the context of their everyday work environment, companies like SAS and Google are demonstrating their commitment to the quality of their employees’ lives.

But the concept of employee enrichment doesn’t end simply with employee personal life enhancements.

Employee enrichment encompasses three other factors:

1. Professional development through formal policies aimed at advancing the employee’s career progress and ­improving employee skills, performance and earnings potential.

2. Social connectivity. Wise leaders understand that em­ployees don’t perform in a vacuum. They’re part of a compre­hensive network of people who have a profound influence on their work, their lives and their ability to perform.

The social aspect of work is likely to have a greater impact on the quality of the employee’s life than other enrichment contributions. Social connectivity is also significantly harder to implement than merely offering a set of benefits.

3. Positive feelings and a high level of energy in the context of work performance. Learning and growth happen when activities are linked to a sense of progress. As employees experience a sense of thriving, they perceive that their work and their lives are richer.

In today’s communal world, the heavy use of social media is a hallmark of employee enrichment. When co-workers use social media to share experiences, opinions, feedback and appreciation, that’s behavior that fosters greater trust among colleagues and contributes to a sense of thriving.

New ground for HR pros

The concept of employee enrichment is somewhat of a departure from other HR and management strategies because it is a genuinely “people-first” approach. The things that set employee enrichment apart are not so much the exact practices that organizations undertake to serve employees. It’s more about the attitude that things are done for the pri­mary purpose of enhancing the lives of employees.

The more senior management is able to take actions that are designed to individually enrich and enhance employee experiences—with the idea that employees are constituents to  be served as opposed to being simply a means to an end—the greater the payoff will be in increased productivity, engagement, loyalty and profitability.


Author: Jennifer Rosenzweig is research director for the Forum for People Performance Management within the Medill Integrated Marketing Communications Program at Northwestern University. Contact her at (630) 369-7780. This column is excerpted from “Beyond Employee Engagement: Creating Enrichment,” a white paper from the Forum.