Broaching the topic of religion in the workplace can mean wading into an emotional and legal minefield, which is why most US companies prefer not to talk about it. Yet as the religious diversity of the workforce increases and religious discrimination complaints are on the rise, faith is becoming an issue some employers can’t afford to ignore. To that end, the French oil company Total has issued an extensive guide to religion in the workplace, Francesca Fontana reports at the Wall Street Journal. The guide covers both general knowledge, such as an explanation of the basic tenets of major world religions, as well as workplace-specific issues such as whether managers need to provide halal food at company meals:
At 92 pages, the English-language version of Total’s guide offers few firm rules but states that employees’ religious practices, such as prayer, should generally be respected and accommodated. Employees aren’t required to read the document, which is available to those who are “curious,” said a company spokeswoman. The company created the guide to aid managers and employees who “may have questions or doubts on this topic, working with people who might not eat, dress or pray the same,” said the spokeswoman.
It’s interesting and telling that Total created this guide to satisfy employees’ curiosity, rather than any legal concern. In doing so, it is demonstrating that religious pluralism and tolerance are among the values it wants to instill in its culture by encouraging and empowering employees to educate themselves about their colleagues’ religious beliefs and practices. Rather than imposing a long list of rules, Total invites employees to understand why these values matter at their company, which our research at CEB (now Gartner) suggests is often a better way of getting the message across.
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Lenny Sanicola at WorldatWork predicts that among the major rewards trends in the coming year, more employers will be using big data to target their benefits communications:
In order to further engage employees in their benefits and drive certain behaviors, both the approach to messaging and delivery will continue to evolve. We will see more employee segmentation with the goal of creating more targeted, personalized messaging that is delivered among a variety of social media platforms. Some companies are leveraging interactive communications and incorporating gamification elements to enhance messaging and drive engagement. Others are exploring the use of data mining and analytics to create relative and timely targeted messages to employees and family members.
Indeed, benefits communicators are presented with an ever-growing mix of communication options, as well as an increasingly “competitive” communication landscape in which employees are receiving more messages from more sources than ever before. Benefits teams then face important questions about how to use the right content and channels to communicate benefits, often with scarce time and money.
This year, the CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council surveyed over 10,000 employees globally to identify which of the many options employees are most responsive to—that is, which options have the greatest positive impact on their perceptions of rewards—and found that channels that mimic a “human touch” are the most effective.
The challenge for organizations is that delivering personalized communications can be costly and easily overdone with no real impact. The key to managing this challenge with a tight budget is personalization at scale: Organizations can often take advantage of channels already present in the organization, which employees already use, and that can be made to feel personal.
Overall investment returns in the coming years are expected to be substantially lower than they have been over the past three decades. This new market climate, Richard Dobbs, Susan Lund, and Sree Ramaswamy at the McKinsey Global Institute warn, poses serious challenges for managing employee retirement funds:
An era of lower returns would prove challenging for many stakeholders. Municipal retirees, taxpayers, and bondholders, for example, will suffer if lower returns make it harder for already-strapped public pension funds to cover their obligations. (We estimate the deficit for US public-sector pensions could rise to as much as $3 trillion.) The exposure of corporations is less obvious. Many have already replaced defined-benefit pension plans with defined-contribution plans or have been forced to take a more conservative view on the outlook for investment returns for their remaining defined-benefit liabilities.
That may remove immediate financial pressure from the books of employers, but it doesn’t shield them from the impact of lower returns on their employees, who now bear investment-market risk as they save for their own retirement. Individuals will feel the impact directly in their investment portfolios and pensions. A two-percentage-point difference in average returns over an extended period means that in order to live as well in retirement as would have been possible with higher returns, a 30-year-old today would have to either work seven years longer or almost double her savings rate—and this does not factor in the effect of rising life expectancy. No matter how you slice it, the implications for employees of a lower-return world are significant, suggesting some new imperatives for employers seeking to attract, retain, and motivate talented workers[.]
Engaging employees in their benefits—while making sure they’re the right benefits—is a key challenge for total rewards teams today. This is one major theme emerging in CEB’s current research on best practices in pay and benefits communications (which CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read here). Dobbs, Lund, and Ramaswamy recommend that in order to protect both employees and employers in an environment of lower investment returns, rewards should change. However, in order for rewards design changes to drive engagement and productivity, organizations will need to help employees understand why their rewards have changed and adequately direct them to the better savings options. In other words, to engage employees in new rewards, the organization needs to be deliberate in the way it delivers information about changing rewards to the workforce.