January 3, 2017

Experiences, Not Things: How You Can Improve Employees’ Quality of Life When Increasing Pay Isn’t an Option

2015 was the year Frozen entered our household. Our twin girls got hooked on the movie and our family responded with appropriate Christmas presents, including a Frozen scooter and a Frozen karaoke machine. While well intentioned, the novelty of these gifts inevitably wore off. The scooter now sits dormant in our garage and the karaoke machine (blissfully) collects dust in our basement.

Four months ago we took a family road trip to Yellowstone National Park, and the girls have captivated us with tales of bison, geysers, and mountaintop vistas ever since. The lesson? The life experiences we give to our kids are much more valuable than the stuff we buy for them.

One of Forbes’ most popular articles in 2016 was a Travis Bradberry piece titled Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things. This can be as true at work as it is in our personal lives – especially as those two paradigms are so intertwined for today’s families. In an economy where budgets remain tight, companies are searching for ways to attract and retain top talent when large compensation increases may not be an option. Let’s look at the key principles of the Forbes article and how they can apply at work.

The Paradox of Possessions

The article asserts that the novelty of new possessions quickly wears off as we get used to them and inevitably want more. Worse, we find ourselves making comparisons to others. At work there will always be someone who has a higher salary or got a bigger promotion, so measuring our self worth solely on money is a dead end.

Millennials have absorbed this lesson more than older generations, perhaps due to the economic times in which they entered the workforce. A recent Fortune article listed the top three things Millennials want in a career with the sub-headline (hint: it’s not more money). They are:

  • Flexible work schedules
  • Investment in skills, training, and personal growth
  • Alignment of personal goals to organizational objectives and broader societal impact

Experiences Become Part of our Identity

While money helps to define what we have, experiences define who we are. They also influence how we feel about our employer.

Using the top three priorities listed above, it’s easy to see how accommodating these needs would drive loyalty among employees. Flexible work arrangements allow families to manage impossibly tight schedules when a parent works and travels. Training and development opportunities give employees a sense of learning and personal growth rather than just checking items off a daily task list. And alignment of personal goals lets people see how their work impacts the big picture both inside and outside the organization.

There are also seasonal opportunities to spend time with co-workers while feeling a sense of purpose in the community. Ceridian’s Dalia Stopnicki blogged last month on holiday-themed team activities that won’t break your budget.

Anticipation Matters

The article notes that anticipation of an event causes excitement, while anticipation of obtaining a possession causes impatience. Each summer, Ceridian’s Minneapolis office hosts a company picnic and ball game at the home of our local minor league team – the St. Paul Saints. The opportunity to socialize with each others’ families in a laid back, outdoor environment is something that we mark on the calendar and look forward to. By contrast, anticipating your next pay raise – or paycheck – causes stress and apprehension. We need more to look forward to on the calendar than our next merit review.

Experiences are Fleeting (which is a good thing)

Not all experiences are good ones, but those times still shape our views moving forward. When our aforementioned twin girls were born, they had health issues that persisted for several months. In that time my leadership never hesitated to grant the time I needed to attend anything from surgeries to specialist visits.

This attitude is contagious in the workplace. Once we have been given the flexibility to deal with life’s more important matters, we are much more likely to extend that same courtesy to our own teams. Bad memories fade over time, but we never forget those who made negative experiences more manageable.

Bringing it All Together

You might not have the budget to give your top employees the compensation package of their dreams, but you might not have to. Employees who are given opportunities to effectively manage work-life balance while also feeling a greater sense of purpose and contribution to society are more likely to ask themselves, “Would I really want to leave all of this behind?”

John Whyte

John Whyte is Senior Manager of Talent Management at Ceridian. He joined our product team in 2010 with over 10 years of experience in product management. John drives the Dayforce Talent Management strategy for recruiting, performance development, compensation management and beyond.

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