From the Blog

How to spend money on people

Our lesson today is about perspective.  In most of our posts, we subtly hint that there is a better way to do wellness (for which “BUY OUR SERVICE!!!” is often the cleverly hidden subtext).

Today we are actually sharing a different way to look at how to spend money on your employees in general.  How to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Why?  We know that our little niche fits somewhere in the mind of the HR exec.  Every now and then it bursts panting into the CFO’s or CEO’s office, and then it leaves again.  With rampantly unhealthy employees, spiraling costs and profit pressures – not to mention the shining white knight we call health insurance reform – it is getting its fair share of attention, both positive and negative.

And while I love the attention it receives (almost any PR is good PR), it is entirely out of proportion with the dollars spent on it.  Two years in business school taught me that every dollar invested should yield more than a dollar in return (I’ll skip the opportunity cost of capital and hurdle rate lectures).  I get it.  But arguing over the $2 to $10 per employee per month a comprehensive wellness program costs can be a bit fatiguing.  If you believe in its benefits (resilient, high-performance, loyal employees), the cost discussion is, frankly, a waste of time.
Allow me to illustrate.  (The size of the bubble equals the size of the expenditure).

How to Spend Money on People:

The exact list and location of each “employee benefit” will vary by company.  Trucking companies may value drug tests over cool office space, for example.  But you get the point.  (Nice two-by-two matrix, huh?  I told you I went to business school!).  The breakdown:

  1. Buy the “No-Brainer” services (wellness, EAP, comfy chairs, etc…).  They provide the biggest bang for the buck.  They will build morale, culture, productivity and loyalty almost for free.  Find the “No-Brainer” services that fit your company.  Bus passes?  Martin Luther King Holiday off?  Free Celery?  You pick.  And make sure they reinforce your most strategic, culture-building employee messages.  When others see people smiling when they talk about working at your company – they will assume you pay better (and you won’t have to).  For example, wellness (done right), is a tiny investment in the productivity and engagement of your workforce
  2. Buy the “Think Hard” services after…. thinking hard.  In fact, “Think Strategically” is pithier (but wrecks the clean layout of my chart).  We won’t say more about compensation, bonuses and company location here – I am sure you have enough people offering their advice there.  We know most of your money, time and attention will go in this quadrant – as it should.  Look for efficiency, excellence and employee delight
  3. “Make Cuts” wherever you can.  Your best employees won’t leave what is otherwise a great place to work if you tweak some weird out-of-network spousal co-pay minimum, or if you get rid of the second corporate jet.  Model intolerance for waste.  Companies with attentive CFOs don’t have a lot of money in this quadrant.  In our next blog post, we’ll help you find cuts in the engine room of your health benefits. (Important note:  This is where underperforming employees live)
  4. Whatever.  If people like Mint Tea or Frisbees, well… whatever.  Don’t waste time creating policies to double check the under-ripe Starbucks bananas I expensed at the airport, please.  If you need snacks for the quarterly meeting, buy them!  (Do me a personal favor and reconsider the whole donut thing, though)

I dedicate this blog to insurance expert Mike Johnson (of Bay Area brokerage Johnson & Dugan), who adeptly asked:  “Companies hung up on the ROI of wellness should ask:  What is the ROI of health insurance?”  (It does cost 200 times as much, after all).

Let’s pick some low hanging fruit.  Then let’s eat it.

We’ll need the energy for the big stuff.