Use payroll data to improve employee engagement, Xerox HR expert says

Enterprise HR departments are sitting on a valuable library of data merely by processing their employees’ paycheques and benefits, a leading expert in the field says, yet few are taking advantage.

During a Toronto-based presentation organized by the Conference Board of Canada, Karim Kurji, principal of engagement practice with Xerox Corp.’s HR services division, explained how employers can build on their payroll data to improve employee engagement, trim costs, and reap the maximum value possible from their employee reward programs.

“You’ve got data in your HR IT systems,” he told the audience. “It just needs to be pulled together.”

Karim Kurji, principal of engagement practice with Xerox HR Services, says...
Karim Kurji, principal of engagement practice with Xerox’s HR services division, says employers should take advantage of the data available to them to increase worker engagement.

A key concept that Kurji returned to repeatedly during his presentation was that of “total reward information” – the monetary value of benefits earned by employees over and above their base salary. These are among the expenses financial departments are most eager to trim, he said, but that Xerox urges companies to address with employees first to determine their perceived value.

To illustrate his point, Kurji drew from a series of anonymous case studies, noting that Xerox’s HR division is currently advising more than 40 companies worldwide, with workforces ranging from 1,200 employees to more than 250,000.

When offering HR support to its clients, Xerox often starts by suggesting they collect more focused data – after dividing their existing employee information into segments such as age, sex, pay level, and position, he said. This can help their HR departments tailor surveys to each segment as they measure employee opinions of their work environment and the rewards offered.

For example, he said, while conducting research for one client, Xerox staff discovered the company benefits were stacked in favour of senior executives, who were predominantly white and middle-aged.

“If you asked the client, he’d have said it was stacked towards the WASP managers,” Kurji said with a chuckle. “But there are only so many people at that level – and it wasn’t working for everyone else. So they decided to make a shift.”

Xerox staff have also discovered that millennial employees are more likely to support a flexible benefits system, Kurji said, one that allocates a set amount of funds that they can spend on pre-approved expenses of their choosing. Nor was this preference confined to workers under 30, he noted, offering a personal example even though he’s a member of Generation X.

“My kids are coming up to a particular point in life where our dental bills are ridiculously high,” Kurji said.

“I’ve been to the orthodontist… He comes in with a brand-new Audi and I’m like, ‘yeah, that tire is mine,'” he continued. “If my benefits were, say, $30,000, I would be keen to see a system… where those might be given to me in the form of points.”

Under a flexible system, those points could be used for the orthodontist one year and retirement the next, Kurji said. If he were a 25-year-old, he could imagine himself investing in laser eye surgery.

“The future is thinking along those lines,” he said. “Being able to do what you want the way you want to, because at the end of the day, you’re working really hard to do it.”

While the five most valued benefits are relatively consistent across demographics, he said – medical benefits, dental benefits, paid time off, savings plans, and annual bonuses – the commitment to each changes based on age group and work level. Senior executives are less likely to care about medical benefits and paid time off, for example.

Once Xerox conducted a study that showed the perceived value of a benefit was much higher than its actual cost, leading the company involved to scrap a plan to scrap a benefit, Kurji said: by taking a total reward approach, the company reaped the benefit of happier employees.

“There was one client where the employee was in India, and she sent us an e-mail saying, ‘thank you for creating this total rewards thing. Now I can go home and show my family how much I actually bring to the table,'” he said. “That, for us, was golden.”

Kurji acknowledged that data is only starting to play a more leading role in HR, which at its core has managed to remain stagnant for decades. But the more segmented data companies collect, he says, the easier it becomes to recognize how tweaking certain aspects of the company’s business model will lead to an outcome that is better or worse for a given population. The result is not only consistently happier employees, but HR staff that can make better-informed decisions – and save their employers money along the way.

“The age of HR technology hasn’t come together yet,” Kurji said. “But I think it’s what’s going to be key in the years to come.”

“I jokingly tell my clients, ‘If you’re not using your reward data after you’ve spent months compiling it, you should fire your consultant,” he added.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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