It's that time of year again: #AppleEvent. Sleek. Sexy. Courageous. iPhone 7.
Apple's latest offering, sans headphone jack, has provoked anger from users everywhere. There's so much anger, in fact, that social media has commandeered a rather unflattering (and definitely NSFW) hashtag for cataloging complaints about the removal of the jack.
Explaining the decision to remove the analog headphone jack, CEO Tim Cook said:
When you decide on what the future is, you want to get there as soon as you can... Now why is that important for the consumer? Well, that plug, that jack takes up a lot of space in the phone, a lot of space. And there's a lot of more important things we can provide for the consumer than that jack.
More important things to who? Certainly not the consumers, based on their reactions. In hindsight, it seems that the analog headphone jack was pretty darned important to a lot of users...
Apple has long assumed that people don't know what they want until you show it to them. If you're planning to roll out a new element of your total rewards package without considering the tastes and preferences of your workforce, you're making this assumption too. And, like Apple, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some frustration and anger.
We're all trying to offer total rewards packages that are sexy (read: attractive to current and potential employees) and, because of the economic climate and talent markets we find ourselves in, may feel pushed to do something courageous. But courageousness without intelligence is dangerous.
Imagine your workforce consists mainly of Gen Xers. It's courageous to change your spot bonus program from cash to upgraded tech. It's dangerous to change your spot bonus program from cash to vouchers for yoga classes and smoothies. Now imagine you have a Boomer workforce. Offering smaller annual salary increases combined with reduced employee healthcare contributions is courageous. Offering smaller annual salary increases combined with "Team Building Tapas Tuesdays" is dangerous.
What may appear to be unimportant to you in the grand scheme of your total rewards program may be a key selling point of that program to certain demographic slices of your employees.
The truth is, your total rewards program will never satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time. (After all, there are still some amongst us who prefer Android phones!) As I've said before, being flexible can help you satisfy more of the people more of the time. Steve Jobs's approach of telling people what they want doesn't work in this setting. Offer rewards elements that are likely to appeal to all of your employees, regardless of demographics. Provide flexibility and choice in those elements that you do offer, and be leery of replacing a tried-and-true program with something new simply because it's new. New does not always mean better.
Why is understanding and incorporating the preferences and motivations of your workforce important? Because you're not Apple. The likely worst-case scenario for Apple as a result of removing the audio jack is they'll initially miss some sales targets, take a beating on social media for a while, and eventually people will realize they really did want wireless headphones after all. But you're not Apple. If you unplug from the preferences and motivations of your workforce, you risk unpairing from them permanently, creating some serious problems in your ability to attract and retain top talent.
Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at Cornell University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on economic theory and labor economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Throughout her career, Stephanie has completed research on a variety of topics including wage determination, pay gaps and inequality, and performance-based compensation systems. She frequently provides expert commentary in media outlets such as The New York Times, CBC, and NPR, and has published papers in a variety of journals.