The Williamson Difference: HR Answers That Work

5 Alternatives to Pay Raises to Engage Employees

May 14, 2019

By O.C. Tanner

While making more money is a good motivator, it should not be the end-all when it comes to encouraging your employees to be more engaged. If you think that a bigger paycheck is the only way to achieve higher engagement levels, consider these five alternatives.

1. Focus on Overall Well-being

Given that only half of employees think well-being is a strong part of their organization’s culture, there is definitely room for improvement. In addition to the more obvious perks like PTO, employees need a more holistic vision to corporate well-being initiatives, including a focus on physical, emotional, social, and financial needs. Put practices into place now that both acknowledges these needs and considers each of them equally.

2. Allow for Company-Wide Social Gatherings

Social gatherings tend to bond and connect people together, especially when there is food involved. Having monthly or even quarterly events is a sure-fire way to boost morale and remind employees why your company is an exciting place to work in addition to a place where they want to put forth their best effort.

3. Consider the Surroundings

Nothing says “I’m not motivated to work” more than a lack of windows, the absence of plants, or daunting cubicle space. If your engagement levels are lacking, consider looking at the space where engagement is intended to occur. Focus on creating a space that fosters connections between employees and enables interaction and collaboration, such as an open plan and common areas that encourage workers to do their jobs in the presence of others.

4. Encourage Continuing Education

Now more than ever, employees want to be stretched in ways that allow them to acquire advanced skills, be challenged, and learn new, valuable things in their current roles. Doing so will help them be more engaged with their work and bonus—it keeps your employees up on the latest industry advancements, enabling you to offer the best services.

5. Recognize a Job Well Done

Recognition is critical to increasing engagement levels, because when employees feel appreciated for the work they put in, they feel as though the organization respects the quality of work that they do. Ideas include both formal and informal employee recognition as well as good team dynamics where peers and leaders openly celebrate when great things happen.

Whether you’re just now searching for ways to better engage your employees or have been looking for solutions for some time, the answer is not always found by increasing pay. Test out some of these alternatives to pay raises to make your employees more engaged and inspired, every day.

O.C. Tanner helps organizations inspire and appreciate great work. Thousands of clients globally use our cloud-based technology, tools, and awards to provide meaningful recognition for their employees. Learn more at

This article was originally published on O.C. Tanner’s blog, ‘a’ Magazine (

Employee Experience Must Mirror the Customer Experience

May 14, 2019

By Sharlyn Lauby

While it is true that employees aren’t the same as customers, on some level, they do expect the same experiences.

Technology is doing some wonderful things for the customer experience. I can make doctor appointments and see my lab results using an app. If my flight is delayed and I miss my connection, the Delta Airlines app will automatically rebook me on the next flight. It’s those little things that make life easier. And if individuals can get that experience in their personal lives, it could drive the employee experience they expect it in their work lives.

Use technology strategically. There are times when “going old school” is fun. But there are moments when it demonstrates otherwise. Organizations do not want to appear to be “behind the times”. The goal of technology is to free us up from the mundane so we can focus on things that technology can’t do – like having team conversations or making business decisions.

Technology is definitely a part of the employee experience. Organizations use technology to run their operation. They use technology to source and hire the best talent. Employees expect technology to help them do their jobs. This includes everything from email to artificial intelligence and employee self-service. Employees can see how technology is helping them manage their personal lives and they want to know their employer is going to do the same.

Organizations don’t have to be early adopters for everything. Let me balance the push for organizations to adopt technology with a caveat. Companies do not have to adopt every single new piece of technology that comes to market. It’s perfectly okay to wait a while, see what others are saying, and test drive it before buying. The challenge comes when organizations take years to do that.

While employees and customers are different, they are both essential to our business. And they expect a good employee experience with the company – both in terms of their face-to-face and technological interactions.

Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (, a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. This article was reprinted with permission from Kronos (, a leading provider of workforce management and human capital management solutions. You can connect with them on Twitter at @KronosInc and @HRBartender.

A Learning Culture Is Key to Increase Innovation, Productivity, and Retention

May 14, 2019

By Jeff Miller

I've spent my entire career either learning or teaching. I've studied the psychology of learning, and I've been involved in helping everyone from executives to middle schoolers get better at it. I've learned a lot myself in that time – including that learning is consistently pushed last on the priority list.

My sixth graders were always looking for shortcuts around it, and in the workplace, it's avoided in favor of more tangible deliverables – even despite the positive impact it can have. Deloitte research suggests companies with strong learning cultures are 92 percent more likely to innovate, not to mention 52 percent more productive. What's more, giving employees learning opportunities helps promote long-term retention. A 2018 LinkedIn Jobs Report found 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if that company invested in their career development. Yet 6-in-10 managers say getting employees to make time is the biggest challenge for talent development.

Even at my company, where a bulk of our business is centered around helping other companies implement learning, we're not perfect at ensuring our own employees make time for personal development. In fact, this year we've decided to challenge ourselves to increase the amount of time employees spend learning. And, by implementing the following strategies, your company can too.

Stop the Excuses

Often, the reason learning falls by the wayside comes down to one excuse: “I'm too busy."

When big projects come up or your team is overwhelmed with tasks, it's easy to tell employees to prioritize the work and skip the 30-minute course on something like problem solving or communication. But in my experience, you can almost always find the time for learning. Just think about the times when the CEO gives a presentation, everyone is magically available for an hour.

One way to get time back? Take a closer look at meetings. Meetings have increased in number and in length since the 1960s, according to the Harvard Business Review, and over 70 percent of executives surveyed in their study agreed most meetings are unproductive and inefficient. In my experience, most one-hour meetings can be done in 15 to 20 minutes. If your meeting doesn't have a specific action or outcome, maybe you don't need to have it in the first place. And not everyone has to be in every meeting; review the meeting goals to ensure your employees are only in the meeting if they need to be.

Make Development Important to Management

Even outside of busy periods at work, it can be challenging to get employees to invest time in learning. I think this stems from the decades-old perception that if an employee has free time, it's an indication they're not working hard enough. And that's still ingrained in some company cultures today. One of my colleagues came from an environment where pursuing learning instead of billable client work meant that she wasn't proving her value to the company.

The only way to start to change this cultural habit is to start to change expectations and that's a directive that needs to come from senior leadership. If managers are being measured by their ability to complete projects, there is no incentive for them to help to develop their employees. But, if one of the company's core management competencies is for managers to be developers of people, managers are much more likely to prioritize learning.

When the colleague I mentioned started at Cornerstone, she told me she struggled to adjust to the expectation that she make time for learning in her schedule. The person who helped her make the switch? Her manager.

Start Seeing the ROI

Managers worried about time lost to learning might actually find that learning actually improves their employees' work. According to LinkedIn research, employees who engage in learning regularly are 47 percent less likely to be stressed, 23 percent more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21 percent more likely to feel confident and happy. Learning can also increase productivity: Research suggests a break from your traditional job can promote creative thinking and productivity.

Moreover, employee retention is tied closely to learning. According to research from the Institute for the Future, 42 percent of millennials report they are likely to leave a company because they are not learning enough. Meanwhile, the same study revealed 52 percent of employers consistently struggle to fill open positions – at a cost of 150 percent of the salary of a mid-level employee. Learning can help reduce employee churn and even address hiring challenges across the organization.

Finally, a learning culture can future-proof your organization as things like automation and the rise of the gig economy continue to change the workforce. According to one study, 90 percent of global managers and executives expect their work to be disrupted in the near future, but only 44 percent say their organizations are adequately prepared for it.

Rather than looking elsewhere for the talent to fill those gaps as needs arise, companies have the opportunity to start developing their current workforce today by building a learning culture. By dedicating more time for employees to learn and grow their skills, companies will maintain a workforce that is on the cutting edge of whatever change comes next in the world of work.

Jeff Miller, Ph.D., is the Associate Vice President of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness at Cornerstone OnDemand, where he oversees employee engagement and motivation, learning and development, tech enablement, career mobility and the company’s executive leadership development program.

Cobra Coverage to Qualified Beneficiaries After a Sale or Merger

May 14, 2019

By Diane Cross, Compliance Analyst at HORAN

A seller and buyer may contractually allocate COBRA responsibility as part of the transaction. If that is the case, COBRA responsibility will be outlined by the terms of the contract. In absence of contracted terms, or if the party who was contractually responsible for providing COBRA fails to do so, the IRS provides guidelines that outlines who has COBRA responsibility. Generally, if the seller maintains any group health plan after the transaction, the seller bears responsibility for providing COBRA coverage to the M&A qualified beneficiaries.

Who are M&A qualified beneficiaries?

For the purposes of COBRA, M&A qualified beneficiaries include (1) individuals who are receiving COBRA coverage under the seller’s group health plan at the time of the transaction; and (2) individuals who experience a loss of coverage due to a qualifying event in connection with the transaction.

If the seller does not maintain any group health plan after the sale, who bears COBRA responsibility will depend on the structure of the transaction. In a stock purchase (buyer assumes the role of the seller and generally assumes responsibility for all the seller’s employee benefit plans as a matter of law), the buyer is responsible for providing COBRA coverage to M&A qualified beneficiaries. However, in an asset purchase (buyer usually does not assume any plans or plan liabilities unless a buyer affirmatively adopts or continues the seller’s plans), buyer is responsible for providing COBRA coverage to M&A qualified beneficiaries only if the buyer maintains a group health plan and is considered a successor employer.

When is a buyer a successor employer?

A buyer is a successor employer if it continues the operations of the business without substantial change or interruption, and the seller does not provide any group health plan after the transaction.

Why is this important?

Aside from employers understanding their COBRA responsibility generally, the impact of COBRA liability for M&A beneficiaries could be significant. For example, a buyer assuming COBRA liability could result in a negative impact to the buyer’s premiums; for a self-funded plan, a buyer assuming COBRA liability can impact the plan’s finances especially if M&A beneficiaries have high claims expenses. Such issues, if determined early enough in the process, could be factored into negotiations (through the purchase price or handled another way by agreement).

When negotiating the purchase or sale of a business, employers should be mindful to include COBRA considerations early in its due diligence and discuss with counsel to understand any potential responsibility.

Reprinted with permission from HORAN's Health Benefits Compliance Blog

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