Employee Benefits: A fresh perspective in the times of crisis
Some facts of life never get old or less important even if we say them more than a million times, perhaps. One such fact is that the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has affected our lives in a way like never before. All over the world, as people, organizations, and governments are still struggling to survive in this time of calamity, we witnessed businesses and livelihoods of people being devastated. Massive loss of employment, large numbers of layoffs or retrenchments, significant pay cuts – they are all part of the so-called “new normal”. How will organizations survive this adversity and find solutions through their reward strategies while they brace for the future?
Looking for practical answers in hard times, we can find inspiration and direction from the “Total Reward” framework widely applied in organizations. Regarded as an effective blend of transactional and relational rewards, this framework in its diverse forms places high importance on employee benefits and allied organizational practices like employee wellbeing and overall quality of work-life. In these difficult times, when average salary hikes are low, incentives are restricted, and other cash rewards are strained in most organizations, the emphasis has shifted to multiple types of employee benefits, both monetary and non-monetary in nature. Not unexpectedly, employees are also more concerned about the benefits than ever before. A recent survey by the Prudential group revealed that about three out of four employees value benefits as the key aspect of their reward package and as a significant reason to stay in the job.
Employee benefits, by their very nature, address the safety and wellness of people in organizations. Presently, all organizations are without a doubt working hard towards providing a safe, secure, and sanitized work environment where social distancing protocols are strictly maintained through changes in physical infrastructure and work policies, to protect the physical health of employees. Continuous monitoring of health is being practiced with positive results. This is definitely an essential requirement. Many organizations are even opting for a Telemedicine facility to offer access to a medical practitioner and counseling through the virtual mode.
As a large part of the workforce is working remotely (and will continue to do so for quite some time), there are legitimate concerns about the mental and emotional health of the workforce too. Many studies pointed out the negative sides of long duration “work from home”. Extended work hours and multi-tasking while trying to balance work with domestic responsibilities are leading to many harmful outcomes. Syndromes like fatigue, high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, feeling of isolation, low morale, etc. have become quite common among a large section of the workforce. It is a good sign that most organizations have come up with initiatives to offer help through counselling sessions with mental health professionals, meditation sessions, and regular check-ins from managers. Some organizations rightly gave special attention to parents of young children (especially working mothers) and caregivers to elders through flexible timing and other special provisions. Leave policies or “Paid Time Off” rules are being reviewed as needed so that employees can have an improved quality of work-life.
Another important change is that the idea of safety and wellness is now being extended beyond physical and mental aspects. The crucial factor of financial wellness is being given the importance that it deserves, especially under present circumstances. Organizations have included or expanded many benefits like covering medical expenses, providing health insurance, life insurance, and protection of pay. Quite a few companies have initiated financial literacy/education workshops to enlighten the workforce on the importance of effective financial planning in the time of high uncertainty and lack of job security.
When job security itself is a big question mark in today’s depleted economic environment, how can one try to maintain a high level of employee engagement and performance? Once again, we invoke the ‘Total Reward’ framework and look closely at the possible options of coming up with innovative solutions under the broad umbrella of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Even with all possible measures of cost control, organizations can customize their benefits to address the needs of the employees and introduce inexpensive yet effective solutions. With the right kind of support and encouragement from the top management, it is the responsibility of the Human Resource function to design and execute employee benefits that will result in sustainable performance. It is also important to communicate regularly, clearly, and transparently with employees and take their feedback about the possible choices in the benefits package, even working within the constraints. As many organizations have proved, it is possible to maintain high productivity and employee morale through a smart design of the reward package. Let us hope this trend grows and continues in the post-pandemic future.