The hard and soft costs of turnover are now well established in the business literature. Over 100 years of research and analysis on the topic can be distilled into one central point:  Investing in employee retention pays off. But with so many retention-focused products on the market today, you need to know that you’re investing in a product actually worth its cost. What do you look for? The ROI of course.

Pulling the Curtain Back on Published ROIs

Companies selling employee benefits and retention-focused products often publish ROI figures that are suspiciously high (150%!) and often have little to no grounding in a peer-reviewed methodology.  Be wary of such figures, always ask to see the details of their ROI studies, and use this guide, culled from our award winning work with the ROI Institute, to learn the keys to conducting a first-rate impact and ROI study.

Key #1:  Measure Awareness

Your workforce must be aware of a new employee benefit if you expect it to have impact and produce an ROI.  It might seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook the need to survey your workforce with this one simple question:  

  • Are you aware that this benefit/service/product is available to you?

If you find that very few members of your workforce are aware of what you’re offering, stop here.  Before you attempt to capture the ROI of your investment, double down on your efforts to get the word out on your new initiative.  

Key #2:  Assess Reaction

Employers often jump to utilization numbers when attempting to assess the impact of a new product and miss the opportunity to gather more subtle, but equally important data.  Workforce reaction to a new benefit or initiative is one of those overlooked areas: Is the investment considered useful, relevant and valued by employees?

To assess workforce reaction you might ask employees to agree or disagree with statements like the following:

  • I feel good working for a company that offers this benefit or service.
  • This is a benefit or service that will help a lot of employees.

Data on reaction can help you assess the ‘culture building’ and ‘company loyalty’ impacts of workforce investments and can help you better understand a situation of low utilization (i.e., is low utilization due to lack of interest or other factors?).

Key #3: Evaluate Understanding

Don’t underestimate how important it is to evaluate your workforce’s understanding of a benefit or service.  If employees are confused on what a benefit offers, how to access it or who it’s for, it is hard to expect the benefit to be well utilized, much less have an impact.

You can evaluate the extent to which employees understand a benefit by asking multiple choice survey questions such as:

  • What is the best way to describe the benefit/service/initiative? 
  • What is the best way to begin using the service? 

(Provide multiple answers to choose from with one that is most accurate.)

If answers indicate confusion, your next step is to revisit your outreach and marketing materials and refine them.  

💡 Consider using a handful of employee focus groups for feedback on the revamped material.

If you have excellent awareness and understanding but poor utilization, it’s helpful to look for explanatory clues in your Reaction Data.  Perhaps this benefit is simply not useful to employees or it’s doing little to foster loyalty or pride in working for your company.  

If your investment has poor Reaction Data and poor utilization, it’s probably time to cut it. However, if Reaction Data indicates the benefit positively affects workforce pride and loyalty, lower utilization numbers may matter less.  

💡 A worker’s retention can be impacted just from knowing a valued benefit or service exists. For example, WorkLife’s own ROI studies have shown that between 82% to 93% of employees feel good about working for a company offering our Resource Navigation Service, even if they haven’t used it.

Key #4: Utilization Numbers Always Link to Awareness, Understanding and Reaction 

Utilization numbers are fairly easy to obtain and even easier to draw misinformed conclusions from.  Take a look at utilization numbers only after you know employees have strong awareness and understanding of your initiative. (Many instances of low utilization stem from poor awareness and/or poor understanding.)

If you have excellent awareness and understanding but poor utilization, it’s helpful to look for explanatory clues in your Reaction Data.  Perhaps this benefit is simply not useful to employees or it’s doing little to foster loyalty or pride in working for your company.  

If your investment has poor Reaction Data and poor utilization, it’s probably time to cut it. However, if Reaction Data indicates the benefit positively affects workforce pride and loyalty, lower utilization numbers may matter less.  💡 A worker’s retention can be impacted just from knowing a valued benefit or service exists. For example, WorkLife’s own ROI studies have shown that between 82% to 93% of employees feel good about working for a company offering our Resource Navigation Service, even if they haven’t used it.

Key #5: Focus More on Impact Data than ROI

While we all appreciate a solid number (ROI) to hang our hat on, the truth is that actionable insight on retention-focused initiatives comes from the data you’ll gather while assessing impact, not crunching numbers.  Some impact data can be easily monetized (data on missed days of work, for example) while other impact data is harder to monetize but linked to employee productivity (data on feeling connected at work, for example).

Keep this in mind as you design your impact questionnaire and include questions that help you gather both kinds of data.  


For example, you may want to assess the extent to which your service had the following impacts:

IMPACT
DATA USE
Helped an employee stay in their job.
Data can be monetized.
Helped an employee reduce tardiness.
Data can be monetized.
Helped an employee miss fewer days of work.
Data can be monetized.
Decreased an employee’s stress levels.
Data is harder to monetize, but provides important insights.
Increased an employee’s focus at work.
Data is harder to monetize, but provides important insights.

Impact data that can be monetized forms the basis of the ROI calculation along with the total cost of launching and running the service or benefit. 


💡 ROI calculations can be easily inflated when the total cost is not properly calculated.  Don’t overlook the staff time that goes into a benefit’s rollout and monitoring.

Impact data that can’t be monetized (the “intangible” impact) rounds out the picture and often points to important results from your investment that a simple ROI figure just can’t capture. 

Want to Learn More?

WorkLife Partnership is proud to be an ROI Institute Award winner for its work on employee benefit investments.  Our team is passionate about utilizing data to help businesses make great HR decisions and is always happy to talk with you about increasing the impact of your employee benefits.