#Buildbackbetter: the role of DEI, wellbeing and reward strategy in evolving company culture

As well as accelerating working practices, Covid-19 has amplified our social conscience by highlighting the great inequalities in our society. The press and social media have been filled with examples of people supporting one another, raising money for good causes and coming out in support of movements such as fair pay for essential workers. Consequently, employees are looking to their organisations to demonstrate that purpose isn’t being sacrificed for profit, that their employer is doing the right thing and not simply paying lip service, thus driving a shift towards a more compassionate style of leadership and social responsibility.

#Buildbackbetter: the role of DEI, wellbeing and reward strategy in evolving company culture

Aligning with social consciousness

When we think about evolving company culture, we are really talking about the personality of an organisation, how people feel about the work they do, the values they believe in and where they see their company going. The result of the last year and the desire to #buildbackbetter means that people are expecting their leaders to steer their organisations in a way that is more impactful on both the world around us and the communities we serve, as well as treating employees in a more socially responsible manner. This means that we need to reconsider the way we think about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), employee wellbeing and reward strategy, and ensure that they align and support this focus on social consciousness.

The Black Lives Matter movement and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities has caused many companies to reflect on their DEI practices, recognising that previous attempts to boost DEI have fallen way short of the mark.

The inaugural McKenzie-Delis Packer Review found that in many areas of D&I there were gaps between what companies said and what they actually did in practice; whilst numerous companies said they were making progress on gender or ethnicity diversity in their leadership teams, less than half had specified diversity in succession planning. The review also found that while most companies had processes in place to support employees with disabilities, over 40% hadn’t explained the importance of disability inclusion to their staff.

If we truly want to #buildbackbetter, we need to identify the unique ways our businesses can embrace opportunities to boost efforts at interventions that are meaningful to our employees. Although doing things like ethnicity pay reporting are helpful to establish where you are on your journey, to meet employee expectations you need to communicate an understanding of why you are where you are, share action plans about what you plan to do, and choose initiatives that fit with the context and journey your organisation is on, listening and learning from your employees, and educating them as part of that journey.

Walking the walk

Organisational culture is reinforced by the messages we inadvertently send. Trust, for example, is significantly impacted by saying one thing and then doing another. When it comes to evolving reward strategy and wellbeing initiatives, if we want to demonstrate we are truly building back better, we need to go back to basics and identify how the role of fairness, consistency, equality and transparency plays in the way we reward our employees.

The role of equality, for example, and the concept of ‘levelling up’ has been more prevalent in the last year – whereas historically we have been used to differentiating benefits by role or contract type, there has been a noticeable shift towards equalising and removing these differentials. Not all of it is pandemic related – the UK Corporate Governance Code suggests pension contributions for executives in listed businesses should be aligned with the wider workforce. This has led to most companies having either reduced executive director pension contribution rates last year, or committing to do so by 2022.

The pandemic has, however, had a disproportionate impact on lower paid, contingent and blue collar workers, which has led many companies to review and change the terms of their benefits to make sure employees are protected. Some have enhanced sick pay for those on hourly rates, while others have enhanced death benefit cover for contingent workforces. REBA’s 2020 Employee Wellbeing report reiterated this, suggesting more inclusivity, with a 50% increase in the number of employers providing benefits to all employees. Other surveys conducted last year also suggested that many organisations had made changes to special leave, including standardising annual leave for the whole organisation.

It’s not just benefits that have been challenged. The concept of wealth redistribution has been proposed by Autonomy together with the High Pay Centre in a publication arguing that excessive salaries should be capped to save industries and redistribute wealth. Their recommendations include redistributing the earnings of the top 1% of earners to boost the wages of low earners, and capping wages at £100k, stating that 69% of the public support capping wages at one of £100k, £200k or £300k. Some forward-thinking responsible businesses, such as Brewdog, already have a salary cap in place, and this concept is likely to continue to gain traction particularly among businesses with a social purpose.

Moving to #buildbackbetter

If we want to #buildbackbetter, we need to ensure that we bring together our various strategies around reward, wellbeing and inclusivity to make sure they align and support each other, measure our progress and openly share and shape the direction with employees. This means moving beyond simply having policies or bland statements around responsible reward to communicating outcome metrics that show how and whether you are treating your employees fairly, creating a benchmark that evidences your practice and not just intent.

The author is Justine Woolf director of consulting at Innecto Reward Consulting.

This article is provided by Innecto Reward Consulting.

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