Staffing Management

Preventing Employee Burnout: Customized Solutions

By Rita Pyrillis

Dec. 16, 2011

Employers are demanding more and employees are engaging less, but there is one way to keep your best workers from checking out completely—recognizing who they are and rewarding them accordingly, according to a recent survey by consultancy Towers Watson & Co.

It sounds simple, but few employers are doing it, according to Laura Sejen, global practice leader at the New York-based consulting firm. The process is called “segmentation” and it involves identifying which employees have the greatest impact on the company’s bottom line and customizing a talent management and rewards program to keep them engaged.

While 71 percent of companies formally identify top performers and 68 percent of them tab their high potential employees, only 28 percent actually let their high-potential workers know that that’s how they are viewed, according to the 2011/12 Talent Management and Rewards Study. And just 44 percent of survey respondents said they identify critical-skill employees at all—those who possess the skills a company needs most to compete in their industry.

“That to us represents a lost opportunity to enhance engagement and reduce retention risks,” Sejen says. “If the reason that you identify employees in that high-potential group is to invest more resources on them, more training dollars, or development opportunities and that group doesn’t know what’s going on, you won’t get the ROI you’re looking for.”

In the high-pressure workplace, a little recognition can go a long way, but surprisingly, very few companies offer customized employment deals for key employees, according to the survey, which polled HR professionals at 318 organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

“A lot of companies haven’t thought about this or have had a hard time getting their arms around it,” Sejen says. But that needs to change, she adds, because the economic climate is not likely to improve anytime soon.

“We think it’s prudent to expect ongoing volatility and uncertainty,” Sejen says. “Employers are saying, ‘I’ve got to be careful how I spend my money on rewards and recognition. I can’t be all things to all people. I really need to be focused on these segments that will drive the business forward.’ But we employers are not doing as much as we should.”

There is resistance to the concept of customized employment deals, she says, in part because line managers are uncomfortable explaining to employees that only a select group will be receiving certain financial rewards or career development opportunities.

“It’s hard to have those conversations,” she says.

To read more about the ‘work-more economy,’ click here.

Rita Pyrillis is Workforce Management’s senior writer. To comment, email

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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