Article: #InFocus: The intersection of benefits and engagement

Employee Engagement

#InFocus: The intersection of benefits and engagement

Employee benefits tend to follow a formula: meet external requirements, meet internal expectations, get employee satisfaction. But there's more than that underlying the equation. People Matters gets a perspective from Abel Ariza, Sodexo's President for Malaysia and Singapore.
#InFocus: The intersection of benefits and engagement

Earlier this year, food services giant Sodexo rolled out a global employee benefits programme that establishes three very specific, higher-level benefits for employees across all its operating locations: a 24/7 wellbeing assistance phone line, a life insurance benefit that pays out 1 year's worth of an employee's base salary to the person's dependents if they pass away while in the company's employment, and paid parental care leave that extends to both secondary caregivers and family caregivers.

The objective of the programme, dubbed Vita, is to set minimum standards in all countries where Sodexo operates, particularly those countries which do not have similar government-mandated benefits. It also has a second, less tangible upside: building a stronger relationship of trust and caring between the company and its approximately 420,000-strong global workforce.

Given the speed at which expectations and baselines for benefits change these days, how can any given initiative be used to drive trust, engagement, and other critical components of culture? People Matters asked Abel Ariza, President for Sodexo's Malaysia and Singapore operations, for his perspective of how it works, especially in an industry comprised overwhelmingly of front line staff, and his answer came down to one simple principle: build your benefits around the relationship you want to have with your employees.

Follow a benchmark, and make it fair

For a start, financial compensation “needs to be fair in the market where you operate,” says Ariza. Fairness begins with local requirements: whatever mandate the government has issued in terms of minimum wage where applicable, or above minimum wage if that is the local standard. “At the end of the day, we need to pay people and provide benefits according to the market.”

So what about programmes like Sodexo's latest initiative, which go above and beyond local requirements in some geographies?

That, says Ariza, is about creating your own benchmark within the market. “We are a purpose driven organisation, and we want to take care of the employees, the customers we serve, the communities we operate in. By taking care – it goes as far as being there for them in moments of their lives where they will not expect the employer to be there. For example, we've had occasions when natural disasters happened in this region and affected people badly. And we have been there to help our employees rebuild their houses. We've had employees who were not going through the best time of their lives because of the pandemic, and we provided tools that go beyond their job to help them support them.”

A benchmark like this, he points out, is not just about monetary fairness – that is just the baseline. The point of such benefits and support is to go well beyond the superficial transactional agreement that is typically defines the employer-employee relationship.

“How can we as an organisation, as an employer, help our employees not just to deliver the work they have to deliver but also to go through the ups and downs in their lives? That's what, as an employer, we've seen: we need to be there for our employees.”

Create a long-term sense of belonging

Supporting employees through difficult times is not just about seeing them though a specific situation, or offering a specific programme or initiative. It is a much longer term view for the organisation, says Ariza.

“We believe that for our employees, we need to be there not just during the time that they spend at work, but in all parts of their lives. And we want to be that as part of our values. Being there beyond working hours, whenever they need the support – whether it's to see them through natural disasters, or any other kind of support that they may need – it's what helps us create a sense of inclusion and belonging to the company. And that is what retains and engages them, what creates commitment from the employees in return.”

Taking the employer-employee relationship to such a level requires intentionality, and a very specific guiding commitment that starts from the organisation's end. As an example of how that works, Ariza pointed to Sodexo's response during the pandemic, when the F&B industry was extremely hard hit.

“As an organisation, we've always said that sacrifices will be made for the frontliners, not coming from them. And so during the pandemic, we put on hold any bonuses across the organisation, so that we could direct that funding to protect the employment of the frontliners, so that the sacrifice was not on the front line.”

Understand who and what the organisation values

There are two ways of looking at organisational values: the abstract principles that drive its decisions, and the tangible people and/or other resources that the organisation places value on. Support and benefits for employees is a way of upholding both the principles and the people, and this is why, Ariza reiterates, it is not a transactional thing.

“Benefits are what connect the employee and the employer,” he says. “It's not 'I provide you with food and therefore you're happy'. It's about how we share the common values, and that's what creates the purpose of an organisation – having those connecting points built on the values. Obviously, benefits are part of a company decision, but for us, being able to connect on the values is much more important.”

That also links closely to the objective of supporting employees, he points out – the same principle that for Sodexo, manifests as the idea that sacrifices are made for the people who do the work. “As an organisation, we need to be flexible enough to value our employees and be with them, regardless of the situation.”

And most importantly, those values have to be demonstrated in actual, tangible behaviour – actual outcomes for the people in the organisation, whether or not they are written down or spoken aloud.

“I shouldn't need to tell anyone what are the values of the company,” Ariza says. “Someone may not be describing the values in the way they're written on the the website. But the way a person talks, the way they engage with people, their willingness to help, all that is the end result of understanding what the organisation values and showing that in their actions.”

Read full story

Topics: Employee Engagement, Compensation & Benefits, #InFocus, #Wellbeing

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?