I started writing this blog back in the fall of 2010 -- about 7 years ago. How? Why?
One day, I was feeling really unhappy and I thought that writing would be a good way to take my mind off of my unhappiness. It turned out that it was. And, while I've been at it, nearly 500 posts and 200,000 hits later, I think I can say that there have been at least a few times that I have imparted some wisdom and some knowledge to at least a few people.
Along the way, there have been some side benefits as well. I've made a few LinkedIn contacts, gotten some Twitter followers, and even developed some business from my blogging. But, the biggest benefit of all has come every day.
What's that? Since the day that I made my first post, not a single day has gone by without at least one person asking me what is the single most important benefit to provide to employees.
That's pretty cool, isn't it? Actually, it would be if it were true. But, the fact is that I don't think that anyone has ever asked me that question. However, because I write this blog, I get to address that question now.
As I said, back in the fall of 2010, I was pretty unhappy at work. Before then, I had worked for a firm that I thought was great. We were creative. We were thinkers. We were innovators. We worked together. And, then we were sold. But, in the new firm, a lot of that remained -- not all of it, but a lot of it to the extent that we could figure out how to fit that culture in. And, then we were sold again.
And, it all went away. Every last drop of it went away, at least for me it did and based on conversations and behaviors, I feel pretty certain that many of my long-time colleagues felt the same way.
We'd lost our best benefit. And, that benefit could have been provided to us at no cost. That's sad, isn't it?
In fact, not only could that benefit have been provided to us at no cost, it would have produced large amounts of additional revenue for our employer or for any employer that chose to provide it to us.
If my cryptic ways have confused you here, you could be wondering. What benefit has no cost, but provides revenue to the employer providing it? It's not your health plan. It's not a 401(k) or a pension. It's not even vacation time or flex hours. But, as the way we work has moved from a 1980s environment when I entered this profession to a 2017 environment, this benefit has become even more important.
It causes people who receive it to work harder, to work smarter, and to work longer hours. It causes them to collaborate more. It causes them to give that extra little bit. It causes them to embrace the company brand even if they can't identify exactly what that brand is. And, it's far more important in 2017 than it was in 1985.
I think back to my work world in 1985. I arrived early. I could get breakfast in the office. I ate lunch with my colleagues. My employer provided that lunch. After lunch, we would all walk around the campus. Yes, it was a ritual and we all looked forward to those 5 or 10 minutes. And, then we would all go back to work and work hard.
Today, in 2017, those opportunities are largely gone. Many people don't work in the company office. They often work from home. Nobody provides them breakfast or lunch. They don't eat with their colleagues and they certainly don't walk with their colleagues. In many cases, other than via email, maybe telephone, and perhaps instant messaging and social media, they don't even know their colleagues.
That all makes one benefit harder to provide, but more important than ever.
Okay, for all those of you (maybe there are two or three who have gotten this far, but haven't figured out where I am going), that most important employee benefit is engagement. Yes, it's free to provide and, in fact, it's quite costly to not provide. But especially in 2017, it's not so easy.
How do we engage our employees in 2017? We have to make sure that they have interesting work. We have to make sure that they have a future. We have to take an interest in them. We have to show them a path forward. In short, we have to talk to them. And, far more important, we have to listen to them.
Listening to them doesn't mean that we do everything that they ask, but it does mean that we should think about what they say. The best idea may come from the recent college graduate who (paraphrasing the late Robert F. Kennedy) may choose not to ask why, but to ask why not. The solution may come from the analyst who is not burdened by rules that she hasn't learned yet, but finds an answer that we discover fits within those rules.
So, why am I writing about this now? This morning, I had two reasons. One is that I am very pleased to be employed by a firm called October Three that does seem to do a good job of engaging its employees. I find that I am working harder and I am working pretty intelligently. And, our employees from bottom to top are finding solutions for our clients that are creative and unique.
The second one is that next week, I will have the honor of becoming President of the Conference of Consulting Actuaries. The pay will be low (zero) and the hours will be longer than you might imagine, but if we get it right, the rewards will be significant. As the head of a membership organization that is voluntary for likely every one of its members, I want to engage that membership. In a perfect world, I'd like for every one of those members to feel like this is their organization. I want them to be part of the organization and to seek more and more ways to be part of it because I want them to be fully engaged.
Hopefully, I'll remember to practice what I preach.