REBA’s inside track: five big questions reward directors are asking right now

Collective trends in reward and employee benefits tend to move slowly. Some employers make great leaps, but most follow a general behaviour pattern that gradually evolves over years and decades.

Debi’s inside track: five big questions reward directors are asking right now

In 2020 we’ve been faced with a need to think radically differently to keep up with the seismic shifts in employee working patterns and resulting changing needs. We can no longer pull conventional reward and benefits levers and expect the same results. Because of this, these are the five most common questions I am hearing reward and benefits professionals asking right now.

One: Are weighted salaries set for a big shake up?

This question keeps coming up among reward directors with employees based in expensive cities such as London. With many highly-paid people now comfortably working from home in any location they choose, the question has to be asked: why are they being paid a premium compared to their regional peers?

Those that believe that a dispersed or working-from-home workforce (with occasional visits to the workplace) is here to stay, will be looking closely at their pay spend, their competitors, and their top talent. Who will blink first and make the change we know needs to be made? The weighted salaries debate is the hottest topic in reward currently.

Two: What do we do with our onsite benefits?

Whether an employer offered just a basic range of workplace benefits such as free tea and coffee, or a platinum service that included onsite GPs, dining rooms and childcare creches, there is some serious head scratching going on about what to do now.

On the plus side, any office-cost savings that can be made could be diverted into benefits used to support those working offsite. This might also lead to fairer benefits for the whole workforce if previously head office staff received the lion’s share of these perks. But what would these new benefits be?

REBA has already seen a shift in benefits behaviour at a number of employers. This includes increased interest in electric cars, where using these to commute to work was an inhibitor due to limited charging points, for example. Or increased demand to use flu vaccine vouchers when there was previous reluctance due to having an onsite nurse.

Generally, services that are now available close to employees’ homes are on the up, so expect a boom in demand for national supplier-provided benefits. That said, plenty of employers are holding fire until they are sure of just how many staff will return to a set workplace and for how many days a week in the long term.

Three: How will reward be impacted by new performance metrics?

Now that it is harder for employees to use presenteeism and attention-grabbing inputs to influence a pay increase or bonus decision, some are being exposed as weaker on the output side than it previously appeared. Metrics to measure the real impact of workers on an organisation are going to evolve given that creativity, proactiveness and client wins stand out more when so many people are dispersed and out of sight.

Reward teams do not necessarily have the answers yet, partly because HR and talent teams might still be working this through. But all are aware the system has needed to change for a very long time.

As an aside: Reskilling is another topic of the moment. So, reward teams might like to ask their learning and development teams about reskilling and the role reward could play there too.

Four: Which benefits give the right experience of organisational culture for a dispersed workforce?

Although core benefits such as group insurances have risen in importance in recent months, it is the seemingly smaller benefits that often shape cultures and are unique to specific organisations. Having managers give out a box of chocolates on someone’s birthday when everyone is in the same building does not translate into a dispersed world. It is time to revisit what creates a sense of being a good place to work.

During 2020 many good employers took their duty of care seriously by providing screens, keyboards and so on to employees. However, many employers may also need to revisit gaps that still exist in their policies, such as updating their expenses policy for working from home claims to future proof it longer term (especially if staff start coming back to the office as well).

Some employers have revisited voluntary benefits and discount schemes now so many people are belt tightening, and may have time to do more research for good deals. Others have seen a jump in use of childcare and tutoring benefits, as well as third party provided health assessments. Expanding activity and wellbeing benefits to families or cohabitees is on the rise too.

Five: How is the newfound agility in working translating into benefits offerings?

For huge swathes of the workforce the nine to five, five days a week working patten has hit the dustbin of history. There is an increased agility in the working day, making working hours fit home life needs or personal peak productivity hours.

This demand for agility has been a long time coming, and it is spilling into benefits. More conversations are being had about flexi-accounts or wellbeing accounts, where employees spend on benefits as they see fit. Some even query whether employers go as far as allowing the expensing of benefits completely. This latter idea seems a stretch too far given group discounts and tax breaks, but it is interesting thinking that plays to the expectation to have personal choice to spend on benefits not defined by the employer.

Or we may simply see more agility within benefits. For example, this year many employees had to delay treatments on private medical insurance, so some employers will be discussing the rolling over of unused excess amounts from one year to the next. More life events may become allowable on flexible benefits schemes, from divorce to a partner being made redundant.

The one-size-fits all benefits package (whether flexible or not) is going to look dated as employers increase personalisation to ensure all staff, of all diversities and job roles, are truly included.

Do you believe these are the only five questions to be asking? If not, what else would you ask? Let me know via email.

The author is Debi O’Donovan, co-founder and director of REBA.

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