Merri Mai Williamson on why companies should value their real estate — the employees

Photography courtesy of Merri Mai Williamson / Merri Mai Williamson
Photography courtesy of Merri Mai Williamson / Merri Mai Williamson

When you survey the real estate of your company, what do you see?

I don't mean your literal real estate. Step outside your office and look around. Now, what do you see? Your company's most important asset is not the office -- it is the people. They are the company's REAL estate.

In 1994, when I started my first business, The Chattanooga Times published an article -- one that is framed and hanging in my office today -- in which I stated that I would never have employees. At the time, I had my hands full, and was incapable of managing employees the right way.

However, as the business grew, the obvious next step was to recruit assistance to fully realize the business' potential. If chosen correctly, employees champion your business' mission and vision, and play a critical role in determining the company's success or failure.

First and foremost, products or services sold are primarily a direct outcome of the employees' efforts. Beyond that, employees are the face and voice of the organization, as they interact with customers. And lastly, having employees allows you to delegate, which in turn allows you to focus on the company as a whole.

So, when you think about your company's REAL estate – your people – how do you value them?

Let's make this personal. Picture your own most valuable asset. Most likely, it is your residence. Or it might be your mode of transportation. If someone offered to buy it for a fraction of what you thought it was worth, how would you feel? Insulted? Incensed? Undervalued?

Employees are no different. They have knowledge, skills and abilities, which they feel should be valued in a variety of ways.

The most obvious value is, of course, in compensation. But their paycheck is just the beginning. The total rewards package (better known as compensation and benefits) is the primary means of communicating how the company values the contributions of the employee.

But it is the way in which you approach the benefits side of this compensation equation, whether in a traditional or creative manner, that significantly impacts your ability to attract and retain exceptional talent.

Demonstrating the value of employees means offering something beyond compensation and traditional benefits. The company can focus on work-life balance and allow employees more time to focus on their personal well-being.

Leaders can instill a sense of purpose in the meaningful work being achieved by the team. Investing in professional development benefits the employees, while also aiding the company. And instituting an employee recognition program and celebrating accomplishments is yet another way to prove their worth.

I must admit that, sometimes, no matter how many ways you show that you value your teammates, they still feel insulted, incensed or undervalued. One way to quell these feelings of under-appreciation is to provide employees with an annual total rewards statement.

Put simply, this statement is a customized accounting of the compensation and all benefits each employee receives. It lists the actual amount paid by the company for each benefit (including Social Security and Medicare). Employees rarely, if ever, truly understand the total cost of their employment; but the statement makes it clear that each employee's total compensation package is much greater.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' report this year in June, "Wages and salaries ... accounted for 70.5% of employer costs, while benefit costs ... accounted for the remaining 29.5%."

If your employee benefits fall short of the average of 29.5%, it may be time to review what you are offering. And you should ensure that those benefits meet the needs of your employees, to prove to them what they are worth to you.

In the meantime, don't miss the chance to express your appreciation and demonstrate the value of your company's REAL estate by offering a heartfelt "thank you" -- a simple gesture that still goes a long way in showing gratitude.

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