The 3 Things Employees Need Most When It Comes to Pay, Benefits and Other HR

We’ve all learned how much healthcare is a political issue. But what many of us still need to realize is that healthcare is, first and foremost, deeply personal. In companies that provide benefits, employees care about their health insurance on a primal level, just as they care about their pay, performance management and other programs/policies managed by Human Resources.

So what does that mean if you’re managing one of these programs? Or if you’re in charge of communicating about them so employees understand what they need to do?

By understanding the three things employees need most — and delivering on those needs — you’ll not only help employees. You’ll also improve morale and build loyalty. Here’s what employees need from you:

Empathy. If you’re an executive or a senior HR leader, your situation is probably very different than the employee who just started her first job, or the hourly manufacturer worker, or the part-time customer service representative. For these folks, HR programs matter more because they improve quality of life and make it possible for employees to take care of their families.

Peggy Noonan, columnist at The Wall Street Journal, captured this perfectly when she wrote about how important healthcare is to ordinary people:

“What politicians, those hardy folk, don’t understand about health care is how anxious it makes their constituents. Not suspicious, not obstinate, but anxious. Because unlike such policy questions as tax reform, health care can be an immediate life-or-death issue for you. It has to do with whether, when, and where you can get the chemo if you’re sick, and how long they’ll let you stay in the hospital when you have nobody, or nobody reliable and nearby, to care for you. To make it worse, the issue is all hopelessly complicated and complex and pits you as an individual against huge institutions — the insurance company that doesn’t answer the phone, the hospital that says “I’m afraid that’s not covered” — and you have to make the right decisions.

It’s all on you.”

What’s the lesson for HR? Hopefully you’ll approach key decisions (like whether to cut benefits) with empathy, even though you have to manage costs. But whatever you decide, use empathy when explaining HR programs. That means relating on a sincerely human level to employees who may not instantly understand complex programs and who may struggle with what to do.

Help. If you work in HR, you’re necessarily an expert on issues like how performance management goals work or how to calculate a year-end bonus. But everyone else in the organization is a novice — and most don’t have the time or interest to become even slightly knowledgeable. That means you need to explain everything every time you communicate — and in the most basic, step-1-step-2-step-3 fashion. Yes, this is tiring, but it’s your job to help employees succeed.

Peggy Noonan again: People need simplicity and clarity. They deserve it. They’ll pay for it as best they can, a lot if they have to. But they need not to be jerked around anymore.

Time/patience. I’ve been involved in too many efforts where an HR team has taken months or years to figure out how to build or revise a program — and then rushed to introduce it because there’s no time left. So employees receive a complicated email on Monday that tells them they need to take action by Friday.

This is not just disrespectful — it’s dumb. Executives say they want employees to be proactive and make wise decisions. But nobody has set up employees for success. So the whole experience is frustrating, not empowering.

Engaging employees takes time and a whole lot of patience. Employees need the opportunity to learn about the topic, which means the chance to ask questions and talk about how this program meets their needs.

None of this is easy, and it requires a mindset change from check-the-box to let’s-treat-employees-as-our-most-important customers.

Ready to embrace the challenge?

Originally published at



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Alison Davis

Alison Davis

In Dec 2021, we lost Alison to a five-year battle with cancer. Alison Davis led Davis & Company for over 35 years setting strategic direction for the firm.