You work so hard to recruit and hire the best possible employees for your company. How can you be sure they’ll stay? There must be some way to keep them happy, productive, and here . You wrack your brain and study the latest trends to offer tempting, tangible benefits. Yet it turns out that intangible benefits can do more to boost employee happiness and retention. It’s a cultural thing.

Think of it as building a better customer experience

Anyone in sales – B2C or B2B – knows that customer experience, or CX, is the primary focus these days. Successful selling is no longer about item and/or price, it’s about delivering a holistic, consistent, personalized experience before, during, and after the sale. This is a perfect analogy for HR, isn’t it? Because employees are your customers, too.

Like the sales department, HR used to focus on item (the position) and price (salary, financial rewards such as bonuses, and tangible benefits such as health insurance) to attract and retain employees. But now prospective and existing employees want more. Like retail shoppers, they want to be treated well, and they want their “buyer’s journey” with you to be personalized. That’s why it’s a cultural thing.

Creating a great customer experience for employees comes down to creating a culture in which they feel valued as people as well as workers. Every company’s culture is unique, but the intangible benefits you offer help to define and support that unique CX.

How can you do that?

Culture itself is intangible, but you can take overt steps to foster an atmosphere that is both empowering and rewarding.

To be sure, employees still want a competitive salary and financially-valuable benefits such as insurance, assistance with tuition, student loans, daycare or senior care, etc. And no employee is likely to turn down a monetary reward, if offered. But with Millennials taking their place as the largest segment of the workforce, it’s important to note that Millennials favor intangible, customizable benefits over money.

You don’t have to be the place where everyone zips around on roller skates or brings their dog or plays Frisbee in the courtyard. But putting a greater emphasis on people can make your workplace a much more pleasant, positive place to work. Energy begets more energy, and camaraderie fuels teamwork.

Career development and advancement opportunities

You’ve hired people you know want to do their best. They picked your company because they know you’ll help them do that. So you provide tangible opportunities such as on-the-job training and offsite professional development, interdepartmental cross-training, constructive feedback, regular one-on-one coaching, etc.

But there’s an intangible benefit here as well – the possibility of a better future with you because growth can lead to advancement. Employees who feel encouraged and supported right here don’t have to leave (and go to your competitors) to move up.

Communication that ensures inclusion

A culture that generates outstanding employee experiences is based on the premise that everyone’s job is important and everyone has something to teach others. Too often, employers overlook the importance of communicating the big picture. Transparency ensures all employees know how they fit into that picture. Explaining overall as well as departmental goals, providing progress reports and other good news (or bad) is an intangible benefit that tells people they matter.

It’s easier to feel motivated when you know the “why” behind company decisions and plans and how your role contributes to achieving overall goals. You know your work has value because you can see the end result.

Communication as a benefit also relies on listening – overtly soliciting employee input and following through on suggestions or, especially, problems. Listening and discussing in formal groups or ad hoc conversations gives everyone a voice and brings everyone’s brainpower to bear on company challenges. It may not be a democracy, but participation is encouraged. Even better, it should be rewarded.

Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most-appreciated intangible benefits companies can offer, and one of the strongest building blocks of a great-experience culture. Employees see flexibility as acknowledgement that they have lives outside work. The company is committed to helping them achieve the work-life balance they want. Specific benefits that offer flexibility include:

  • The ability to alter work schedules to accommodate medical appointments, elder or child care hours, or simply avoid time-consuming commute hours
  • Opportunity to work from home, either full- or part-time, which helps individuals meet their family’s needs and saves time and money otherwise spent on work clothes an getting to work
  • The ability to work at least semi-autonomously, deciding for oneself what to do next and how to do it

Recognition

Employees not only want help to do a better job, they want to know they are doing well. Or doing something above and beyond. A culture of positive reinforcement keeps people positively motivated. Flashy incentive or award programs can have merit, but they can also be costly. A simple, sincere “great job” offered in the hallway or in a meeting can do wonders to boost employee morale and motivation.

There’s nothing intangible about bottom line benefits

You can expect excellent ROI when you invest in intangible benefits. According to the Incentive Research Foundation , “Building relationships and social connections leads to better citizenship behavior, creating a reciprocal desire to return the organization’s generosity with greater effort, loyalty, information-sharing, and advocacy (i.e., speaking well of the firm to others).” Not only that, employees who are happy with their experience create happy, loyalty-building experiences for customers.

Because intangible benefits typically appeal to emotional and psychological factors – the desire for work-life balance, a better lifestyle, that feeling of being valued – they can be more difficult to quantify.

Nonetheless, for employers who make the effort, the rewards go beyond better productivity and retention.

Gallup studied teams working in firms with positive cultures (where employees are motivated by play, purpose, and potential) versus negative cultures (where employees are “motivated” to go to work by emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia). They found that, compared to negatively-motivated teams, the top teams:

  • Suffered just half as many accidents
  • Produced 41% fewer quality defects
  • Incurred significantly lower healthcare costs

Temkin Group’s sixth annual Employee Engagement Benchmark Study revealed that highly engaged employees are:

  • Five times “more likely to recommend the company’s products and services”
  • Five times “more likely to recommend an improvement at the company”
  • Four times “more likely to do something that is good, yet unexpected, for the company”
  • Three times “more likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done”

In fact, your company’s culture can become a tangible business asset – an internal version of goodwill. The Incentive Research Foundation reports that intangible value accounts for more than 80% of the market value of publicly traded companies.

Everyone’s a big winner, and you don’t necessarily have to spend a dime because many intangibles that contribute to outstanding employee experience are a matter of corporate priorities and commitment to helping people.

You can measure impact

As noted earlier, it’s not as easy to quantify intangibles as it is to track monetary benefits. But you can detect change. Regular employee surveys enable you to analyze before-and-after results and trends. Feedback sessions and other listening efforts provide an anecdotal sense of direction. Are more employees and families participating in your wellness programs, after-work beer and pizza gatherings, group volunteer activities? If engagement is up, you’re doing things right.

It’s a cultural thing.

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