Article: The evolving employee benefits landscape

Employee Relations

The evolving employee benefits landscape

Gone are the days when a hefty salary and a couple of weeks of paid time off were enough to attract and retain talent. Emerging from the pandemic, employees want more meaningful and more holistic benefits.
The evolving employee benefits landscape

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The war for talent rages on and employers who are ramping up their arsenal of employee benefits are winning the battle of 2021. In a pandemic economy, companies are seeing employees rise to the occasion, working through the crisis and ensuring business continuity. But employers that fail to take care of their people – in a time of adversity, most especially – risk running their enterprise aground. 

Without great talent, no business strategy will succeed. Without dedicated talent, no business strategy will last. 

Inspiring loyalty and commitment among workers matters now more than ever, as businesses face a shortage of talent amid intense competition to find and retain the best of the best. 

It's a symbiosis. For employees to remain loyal, talent leaders will need to focus on employee well-being over anything. Workers today aren't just looking for greener pastures – they are on the market to find better work/life balance, as well as meaningful and impactful work, as a result of the pressures of the pandemic. Those who are overworked, undervalued and left to churn out low-level tasks – all of which run counter to the idea of well-being at work – are often the ones leading the exodus of talent in what has come to be known as the 'Great Resignation'.

Preventing an exodus of talent

In the US alone, a record 20 million people have quit their jobs since April this year, with the majority coming from the high-pressure sectors of technology and health care, as well as the high-risk environments of retail and hospitality, statistics from the US Department of Labor reveal. 

Over in Europe, an estimated 14 million have opted out of the labour force, neither working nor looking for work, ever since the pandemic began, data from the OECD suggest. 

These movements in the job market illustrate, in part, how the mental, emotional, physical and even financial toll of the pandemic has prompted people to take a closer look at their life at work. Millions are now stepping out of the talent market in order to prioritise their well-being. 

And unless employers are willing to evaluate their work conditions and influence on employees, organisations will likely lose the battle for talent – an outcome that could spell disaster for employers in this period of recovery.

Investing in benefits during crisis

It isn't too late to engineer a culture of well-being by design. But building a dream team of dedicated high-performers requires investment. The best workplaces know this. 

In a survey by the nonprofit organisation Transamerica Institute, for example, a staggering 90 per cent of employers did right by their employees by providing them greater support during the pandemic. These included the following measures:

• Allowing flexible hours (59 per cent)

• Allowing remote work (53 per cent)

• Providing emergency paid leave (24 per cent)

• Providing access to mental health support (22 per cent)

• Covering lost wages during quarantine or temporary closure (21 per cent)

• Increasing wages and benefits for essential workers (18 per cent)

'Amid the pandemic, employers have been navigating a public health crisis, a turbulent economy, financial woes, and difficult business decisions. However, they are also finding ways to support their employees during this challenging time,' said Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of Transamerica Institute.

'As employers recover and envision the post-pandemic workplace, they have the opportunity to enhance their benefit offerings. The benefits marketplace is highly competitive, and employers may find new solutions within their reach,' Collinson said.

Nurturing talent has been a perennial challenge for employers, even years before the COVID-19 crisis. Companies like Google, Amazon, Salesforce, UKG, Hilton, Deloitte and EY allocate resources to their wide-ranging benefits programs to guarantee their workers are cared for, recognised and engaged. This is, ultimately, the secret to raising up a committed workforce.

In fact, nearly 70 per cent of workers in a 2020 survey by MetLife said being offered a diverse range of employee perks bolsters their company loyalty. 

Meaningful benefits

Gone are the days when a hefty salary and a couple of weeks of paid time off were enough to attract and retain talent. Emerging from the pandemic, employees want more meaningful and more holistic benefits. 

'COVID-19 is in the driver's seat and every employer has been impacted,' said Christian Sutherland-Wong, CEO of Glassdoor, which recently ranked companies that rose to the challenge of the pandemic. 

Exceptional employers, he said, prioritise the health, safety and well-being of their employees.

Today, nearly two years into the pandemic, organisations are showing no signs of reversing course. 

An employer study led by Care.com shows 98 per cent of companies are set to offer new perks or expand existing ones that enhance workers' quality of life during the crisis. These include child care and senior care benefits, mental and emotional wellness support, and flexible work arrangements. Overall, care benefits are high on the agenda of senior leaders (57 per cent), considering the widespread pandemic fatigue workers are experiencing. 

Among the popular care benefits to have come out of the burnout crisis of the past 18 months are 'shutdown weeks' which companies like LinkedIn, Bumble and Hootsuite implemented earlier this year. 

'We wanted to make sure we could give them something really valuable, and what we think is most valuable right now is time for all of us to collectively walk away,' said LinkedIn Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson. 

Salesforce has also taken a collective approach for the employee community to recover from the pandemic. The business software giant launched the anxiety and stress management platform Thriving Mind and the series B-Well Together to help employees cope with emotional distress.

The pandemic, however, also took an economic toll on workers, primarily those who were retrenched, furloughed, or given fewer work hours or reduced pay. To prevent financial stress, hardware company NVIDIA vowed to retain the same workforce and even pushed through with scheduled pay increases to give workers extra cash to tide them over during the 2020 lockdowns.

Jensen Huang, chief executive of NVIDIA, had one message to his staff: 'Prioritise your family. Our work will wait.'

The bright spot

Before the COVID-19 crisis, employers placed a premium on health and well-being to slash benefits costs. Today, the aim is to foster a 'culture of caring to ensure employees thrive,' analysts from Mercer pointed out. 

'Even before the pandemic, employee health and well-being was at the top of employers' list of workforce concerns (ahead of automation at work and the gig economy) because they understood that individuals cannot be energised if they feel overworked, underappreciated or underrepresented,' Mercer said.

The bright spot, however, is that three in five workers believe their leaders will look after their well-being in the journey ahead. 

It's a level of trust that organisations must value as they strive to recover from the pandemic and nurture a committed workforce.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Talent Management, #WellbeingByDesign

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