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20 Dec 2022

5 key areas for reward and benefits innovation in the year ahead

From the lasting changes of all those Zoom calls to the cost of living crisis, rewards and benefits professionals have a lot to think about

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December is historically a time for taking stock, reviewing what worked in the outgoing year and turning our minds to the year ahead. So, as we look towards 2023, what are the key trends in the reward and benefits world?

1. Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work

One lasting affect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the rise of the ‘whole’ employee. Zoom calls with interrupting pets and a peek into people’s homes had a profound effect and employees are no longer willing to present only a ‘polished’ version of themselves.

This means companies also having to embrace authenticity and encourage employees to be their real selves, with all their hopes, fears and quirks.

From a benefits perspective, this can be anything from encouraging discussion about lives outside the workplace to formal training about life events such as menopause, stress, caregiving and bereavement or offering benefits which support employees navigating these life events.

When employees are allowed to present their authentic selves at work, this contributes to not only their own personal wellbeing but the collective wellbeing of the whole organisation.

2. The workforce is ageing

Earlier this year, employment of over-65s rose 173,000 between Q1 and Q2 to 1.47 million, an all-time high. Age diversity can reap dividends for a business – bringing experience and knowledge sharing, positive role models who can take on mentoring roles and a reduction in turnover. It also brings a new level of resilience, as older workers are more likely to have experienced challenges in their working life.

An ageing workforce requires firms not only to consider the specific needs, attitudes and expectations of older people, but also how to balance these against a spread of ages within the organisation.

Benefits tailored to older staff might include flexible working (and the ability to phase down), sabbaticals and retirement or estate planning advice. Older individuals are also statistically more likely to be juggling a caring role for an elderly or infirm family member, so support for that responsibility, through training, additional time off (without having to take annual leave) or practical support with sourcing carers, living aids or resources will all encourage individuals to stay in the workplace.

3. The cost-of-living crisis

The rising cost of living has been headline news for months and many employers wish to prioritise support for their employees as we move through the winter. However, with companies also feeling the pinch, a salary increase may not be possible.

While some may wish to consider a one-off cost-of-living bonus or even hardship grants for those most affected, it is important to remember that not all support needs to cost money.

Other ideas might include introducing (or reminding employees of) season ticket loans, subsidised meals or opening up offices for longer, to accommodate workers who wish to save on energy costs at home. Consider also being less stringent in your approach to employees who wish to work a second job, even if it is technically not permitted under contract.

Finally, be aware of the additional burden on mental health and wellbeing caused by this crisis. Ensure that mental health programmes are well publicised and look at other financial wellbeing support that could be provided for struggling employees.

4. Diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I)

With the competition to attract the top talent becoming increasingly difficult from a salary perspective, it remains crucial for organisations to consider DEI when they are planning their reward and benefits initiatives for the year ahead.

Top of the list for 2023 are those who are juggling their professional career with caring for adult dependents, ensuring that your benefits are available and inclusive for LGBTQ+ individuals and that their cohabiting partners can also benefit, and looking at inclusive fertility benefits and support for any employees navigating a gender transition.

Again, these do not have to have a huge cost. Look at flexible working hours for carers or those undergoing IVF treatment, life event support services which can be adapted to a multitude of lived experiences, or consider introducing a fertility officer as one UK law firm did in 2022 and becoming a Fertility Friendly Employer.

5. Thinking differently

A recent report encouraged some innovative ideas, especially with an impending recession causing many companies to tighten their belts. Consider closing the office entirely for the holiday break, or allowing employees to take their birthday off or giving a set quota of hours to attend children’s events or to care for loved ones.

Look at investing time in charity events as a team. Setting aside a ‘wellness’ budget which people can use how they wish – think a free laundry service, dog walking or in house reiki or massages – may also reap dividends.

The point is that employers increasingly need to ensure that their benefits are flexible and adaptable to a changing economy and workforce. Investing at an early stage will reap dividends when facing competition for the best talent and it begins with team leaders investing in unconventional ideas.

Investing more in your workforce also makes good financial sense, especially where there have been redundancies and people need to feel confident their position is secure and that they are valued by their employer.

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