January 19, 2016

Building an ‘Internal Brand’: A New Approach to Keeping Employees Engaged and Fulfilled


Intrinsic rewards – like feeling fulfilled by the work you do, for example – are really important when it comes to engaging your employees. In fact, research suggests that employees who feel intrinsically rewarded by their jobs are more focused and effective at work than those who don’t.

But that isn’t to say intrinsic rewards are entirely sufficient. You can’t rely on them alone to keep your employees satisfied – and Mollie O’Brien, director of total rewards at chemical manufacturing corporation BASF, knows this.

“We know that employees want challenging work and a sense of meaning – but they also want to know that they can pick up the dry cleaning and not miss their kids’ soccer games,” O’Brien says.

That’s where she comes in: as director of total rewards at BASF, O’Brien makes sure that employees have access to the company’s wide variety of programs that help them “live their best lives at home and at work.”

“I make sure they can pick up their dry cleaning, so they can actually focus on the things they do best [at work],” O’Brien says with a laugh.

Indeed, BASF does offer a wide range of perks and benefits that most any worker would jump at the chance to have, including extensive discounts on things like movie tickets and personal electronics, training and development programs, best-in-class health benefits, and — get this — a company-wide wine list.

One employee on Glassdoor calls BASF’s perks and benefits program “The best benefits package I ever received,” and many others have chimed in to add their own high praise.

But back in 2012, BASF was facing a problem: Despite the fact that the company offered all these extras, very few employees were even aware that they had these options, much less actually making use of BASF’s programs.

“[In 2012,] we had just done an analysis of our total rewards,” O’Brien explains. “We were asking employees about their perceptions of what’s working, what’s not working, what they needed – and one of the main findings was that employees didn’t understand all of the programs we had. Their perceptions of our programs weren’t necessarily aligned with what was true.”

How did BASF fix the issue? The company launched [email protected], an “internal brand” with the sole goal of helping employees understand, appreciate, and engage with the wide range of programs BASF offered.

So far, the initiative has worked pretty well: O’Brien says the company has seen a 115 percent increase in employees’ perceptions of BASF’s rewards offerings, from 27 percent to 58 percent.

“Am I happy with 58 percent? No! Will I take it over where we’ve been? Yes!” O’Brien says. “We can and will do better, but we’re definitely going in the right direction.”

It’s hard to argue against that assertion. It seems like [email protected] has been a blessing for the company – so let’s take a deeper look at how, exactly, this internal brand operates. You may pick up a few great ideas for your own employee engagement efforts.

Get Employees’ Attention – and ‘Delight’ Them

CandyAs mentioned above, [email protected]’s main goal is to increase awareness of and engagement with BASF’s total rewards program. In order to do that effectively, O’Brien says [email protected] had to get creative.

“We needed to get employees’ attention, to delight them, to get them to think about these programs in fun ways,” she explains. “That way, when they need [these programs], they’ll know we have them.”

Some examples of the creative ways in which [email protected] has promoted awareness of perks and benefits include:

  1. Producing and distributing a twice-yearly magazine that covers everything from compensation and health benefits to work environment and career development opportunities.
  2. Sending employees “rewards statements” that give them a “one-page snapshot of [their] contributions and company’s contributions” to their health care, retirement plans, and so on.
  3. Driving “specific engagement campaigns around specific initiatives.” For example, BASF recently conducted a financial wellness initiative which included on-site retirement seminars and an auction of Adirondack chairs, which are the company’s symbol for retirement.
  4. Creating a “periodic table” of rewards (BASF is a chemical manufacturing company, after all!) that uses color coding to give employees a quick overview of the company’s programs (e.g., “elements” in red are related to compensation, “elements” in green are related to career development, and so on).

You Can Do It, Too — Just Make Sure You Really Listen to Your Employees

O’Brien says that other companies can definitely conduct similar internal branding initiatives. They just need to keep a couple of things in mind.

First, companies need to make sure they spend time marketing perks and benefits programs effectively – preferably in the sort of engaging, creative ways outlined in the preceding section.

Second – and perhaps most importantly – companies that want to engage in similar initiatives need to make sure they are truly listening to their employees. [email protected] is a conversation, not a one-sided lecture. If you’re going to pull off a successful internal branding initiative, you need to take that fact to heart.

Furthermore, you can’t just listen. You need to also respond to what your employees have to say

“We’re measuring employee perceptions, and we’re measuring our programs,” O’Brien says. “When they aren’t working, we’re modifying them. When employees are asking for additional programs, we’re doing the work to see if we can add them.”

Should You Follow BASF’s Lead?

PeopleIt’s probably not a bad idea. After all, the organization was recently honored by WorldatWork with a Work-Life 2016 Seal of Distinction, so it’s clearly doing something right.

But even more important than that is the fact that, today, when job seekers increasingly hold the upper hand in the job market, employers should be doing everything they can to make sure their workers are happy, engaged, and fulfilled at work.

“The relationship between employer and employee has dramatically shifted,” O’Brien says. “As the landscape continues to shift, we need to help employees understand both what’s available in the external market and what we do as a company to put them first.”

That’s a pretty brave thing for BASF to do — to give employees a clear look at how the company’s rewards and benefits programs stack up to the competition. The fact that so many employees stick around at BASF for decades at a time should be a sign to other employers: If you really want a productive, long-term workforce, you have to treat your employees right.

Read more in Benefits

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of Recruiter.com.