How to Remove an Employee Benefit (and Avoid Mutiny)

Posted by Kendra Lusty on Jul. 10, 2023

Let's use our imaginations for a moment.

Last year, your executives miraculously signed off on an amazing employee benefit: private helicopter rides. They even threw in unlimited fruit snacks as well.

Both were cleverly crafted to attract and captivate the elusive Java developer you've been unable to hire.

Everyone loved these new employee perks, obviously.

The rare Java developers emerged from their hidden bunkers in droves to work for your company. You went through 500 packs of shark-shaped fruit snacks a week. The helicopter was so busy you heard the whir of rotors in your sleep.

It was awesome.

But completely unsustainable.

Now, management says they have to go, and you, beloved HR representative, are the one who gets to deliver the news.

Is there a way to deliver this blow without an employee uprising? What do you do?


How to Cancel an Employee Benefit without Crushing Employee Engagement

Let's face it, dealing with open enrollment season and the rising cost of premiums is tough enough. But now, you may also find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to break the news to employees that some of their favorite benefits are disappearing.

Now, we're not talking about anything super cool like free helicopter rides or anything. It might just be something small, like taking away the candy bowls around the office.

Regardless of what it is, removing a benefit is never easy. No matter how you approach it, some employees are bound to feel a little cheated.

But don't worry, there are steps you can take to minimize the outrage and keep employee engagement intact.

Just keep these five principles in mind the next time management asks you to take away an employee benefit.

1. Get Your Managers Onboard

This is sort of the headline of the entire HR profession, right? Your ability to effect change and positive culture shifts in an organization will only go as far as managers will carry it.

These individuals wield direct authority over the staff, and as their actions and decisions shape the rest of the workforce, it becomes imperative to gain their support and alignment with the message beforehand.


Provide a clear explanation as to why the benefit is being discontinued and how this decision aligns with the company's overarching strategy. Utilize the expertise and support of the executive team, if necessary.

However, ensure that they understand the importance of delivering a positive message to their teams. Managers may be tempted to convey a divisive message, but it is crucial to avoid such negativity. "THEY took away our helicopters and there's nothing WE can do about it." That sows discontent in the office and long-term, it jeopardizes employee engagement.

2. Break Your Own News

Timing is everything when it comes to delivering your message. If you delay, there's a risk that it will leak out through the grapevine, and then you'll lose control. It can quickly turn into a game of telephone, where important details get twisted or left out completely.

Make sure to deliver the news all at once instead of spreading it around the office. While it may seem harmless to inform employees individually, it can quickly turn into a chaotic situation.

Save yourself hours of frustration explaining the change to upset workers by taking charge of the messaging and tone.

3. Sandwich the Message

Here's a tried and true PR tactic: mix in some good news, break the bad news, and then sprinkle in more good news.

Here’s an example:

"We're adding two new holidays this year. We're taking away helicopter rides and fruit snacks. And then we've negotiated an ongoing 50% off deal with Uber."

That's the gist of it, but I trust you can catch my drift.

Let's be clear here. We're definitely not suggesting the other notorious "bad news" tactic of releasing information late on a Friday afternoon. Instead, make sure to deliver the news at a time when employees have the chance to ask questions and won't spend the whole weekend worrying about the unknown. The goal is to get the message out quickly and efficiently, so you don't end up with a never-ending line of people in your office asking about the disappearing helicopter rides.

4. Offer an Alternative

We gave a little clue earlier, but occasionally a benefit can be swapped out with something just as good but at a lower price.

Instead of free helicopter rides, you could offer an employee discount program that includes deals on other modes of transportation.

Instead of drowning in an endless supply of fruit snacks, you could switch things up and offer employees occasional healthy treats like fresh fruit and granola bars.

It may not completely erase all the frustration, but it'll demonstrate that the company still values and wants to support employees' needs that were previously fulfilled by the now-discontinued benefit.

New call-to-action5. Be Transparent

That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? When a benefit gets axed, employees can't help but wonder if the company is going down the drain.

I mean, why else would they be cutting back on perks? Are they trying to scrape together some extra cash to survive the impending apocalypse?

But here's the thing: it might not be as dire as it seems. Maybe management just wants to allocate resources elsewhere. Or perhaps the benefit simply wasn't getting much use.

So, before you jump to conclusions and start stockpiling canned goods, consider that there could be other reasons behind the decision.

Either way, consider offering some transparency to employees. Let them know why this is happening, and how it's a good thing overall.

We understand that transparency can vary depending on the culture of each organization. In some corporate cultures, there is complete openness, with everyone knowing exactly what everyone else is earning. In other cultures, there is a preference for employees to focus on their own roles and allow management to handle the bigger picture.

Either way, be as honest as you can with employees about why they're losing a benefit. Take it as an opportunity to earn trust, instead of stoking the fires of suspicion.

When Benefits Take a Turn for the Worse

Not every benefit is a slam dunk. Some sound great, but just don't resonate with employees.

Others, like free helicopter rides, are awesome, but financially unsustainable.

Benefits can be a tricky tightrope to walk. A great one sets your business apart and makes your employees think twice before waving goodbye. It's something they actually use and find valuable, without breaking the bank for your company.

Those are quite a challenge to come by. And let's face it, you're bound to encounter a few benefit failures along the way in your quest to find the perfect fit.

New call-to-action

In the meantime, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of delivering bad news about benefits, handle it with finesse. Depend on your managers, communicate in a way that aligns with your company's culture, and you can rest assured that employee engagement and loyalty won't be jeopardized.

After all, as cool as helicopter rides are, they don't beat a well-compensated, dialed-in workforce.               

Topics: Employee Engagement + Loyalty, Benefits Trends

Kendra Lusty

Written by Kendra Lusty

For over a decade, Kendra Lusty has been a writer for Access Development, and currently focuses her research and writing on topics related to loyalty and engagement.