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Dr. Matt Grawitch: February 2009 Archives

I came across an article recently on organizations that are recognized by Principal Financial Group. These organizations are recognized for the types of benefits they offer to their employees. The article emphasized that the “best companies” are not seeking to cut benefits during the current recession. To this I say: Let’s hear more of that!

All too often, it seems benefits are something that organizations only put in place as a way to competitively attract employees. That makes great sense for them during times of economic prosperity. However, they then yank the benefits away when the financial going gets tough. The argument is that it is better to cut benefits than to downsize.

But…if more organizations actually paid attention to the cost and benefit of employee perks, perhaps they would not put themselves in the position of having to take benefits away. Strategic thinking, when it comes to offering benefits, is just as important as strategic thinking when it comes to corporate performance.

Without a strategy, these companies put themselves into the unenviable position of having to say “sorry” when they take their benefits back—almost as if they are correcting a mistake they made. Yet, most of us don’t miss what we never had. It would seem more practical to make the business case for a benefit before it is offered rather than to make the business case for taking the benefit away when the company needs to save money.

According to a recent story in Workforce Management, training budgets are taking a beating during the current recession. I can’t say that I’m surprised by this, as it always seems that training is the first thing to go.

But why is it that something as important as training always gets the shaft? I would suggest that one of the primary reasons for this knee-jerk reaction is because training programs are so poorly evaluated. Most training is evaluated using reaction data from participants. Did you like the training? Do you think you learned anything?

Seldom is the actual transfer of training to the workplace actually measured. Even less seldom is the business impact on the training measured. And, return on investment with regard to training seems to be a pipe dream!

So, it should come as no surprise that when it comes to budget costs, hard data is likely to hold more sway than opinions. When the company sees a huge training budget and wants to know what the company is getting for those costs, what are they supposed to do with a smile from the human resource director and a comment such as, “Well, employees like it!” I’d cut the budget too!

This scenario happens every time the economy takes a downward slide, though the current recession is worse than normal. Perhaps this time, training departments will learn that smile sheets and superficial feedback isn’t going to save the training budget the next time. Perhaps we need to invest in an actual training evaluation program that provides hard data to withstand hard decisions.