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29 Jun 2020
by Dawn Lewis

The Big Conversation: reimagining the world of work post-coronavirus

Last week REBA brought together reward and benefits directors in its final look at how employers have been responding to the coronavirus crisis; with members given the opportunity to talk and network with each other about their plans.




Debi O’Donovan, director at REBA, began the session by exploring how strategic decisions on pay, bonuses, executive remuneration and employee benefits have shifted during the coronavirus pandemic. Drawing on data from REBA's June snap survey, her presentation explored what employers are doing with pay cuts, pay reviews, bonuses, wellbeing benefits and the government's coronavirus job retention scheme.

She argued that the coronavirus crisis has concertinaed a decade’s worth of workplace trends into a mere few weeks. Reward and wellbeing is now front and centre as employers seek to protect employees and adapt to the rapidly changing world around us.

Key themes

This view was echoed in the conversations had by senior reward professionals in the second half of the morning’s session. Without doubt, there has been a major shift in the way that organisations view the importance of employee wellbeing. In particular, that the meaning of wellbeing has broadened to include culture.

Caring and compassionate line management are now front of mind, with employers putting emphasis on the need to be flexible, kind and understanding during this period of uncertainty. And this move to put human first has seen a huge shift in employee engagement, often for the good, where employers are being more open and transparent in their communications.

One roundtable group acknowledged that in the past employee communications have been an area of weakness for reward teams, and that recent events have highlighted how important communication and engagement is to the reward vision and strategy. They suggested that there was a need for more open, honest and transparent communications that ask and listen to feedback. And it helps even more if this is driven by a leadership team who are not afraid to have the more difficult conversations.

Other key areas of note were the shift to digital tools and services – particularly social benefits that work digitally. And the need for great global thinking – the pandemic has identified gaps in global alignment and jurisdictions that need greater wellbeing support.

Greater wellbeing support was the topic of one of the roundtables. This group discussed the interventions they had put in place to support employee wellbeing – the most popular responses were introducing or enhancing EAP and virtual GP services, while also increasing communications to ensure employees were aware of these services and what they offer.

One employer had introduced wellbeing Wednesdays, which focused on a different theme each week, while another had set-up listening groups to allow employees to feedback how they were feeling and what they are expecting from the working environment when they return.

Of course, many employers are still dealing with the fall-out from coronavirus and are in the process of working out a long-term strategy. However, there was optimism that the crisis has opened up opportunities to rethink the way things have been done in the past to realign, redesign and, in some cases, completely overhaul reward and benefits strategies.

Employers spoke about harmonising benefits, streamlining bonus rounds, adapting business planning periods, shortening metrics and resetting the reward philosophy. While others are also reassessing the need for offices and highlighting the importance of social benefits, including recognition.

A challenge to the reward community

Employee wellbeing is vital to the future sustainability of organisations, believes O’Donovan. She concluded her presentation with a challenge to the reward community to focus on responsible reward, equal pay, inclusion and diversity.

“To be sustainable an organisation needs to be innovative and resilient. And that will only happen with a good culture and a good resilient employee experience,” said O’Donovan. “The reward and employee benefits community is absolutely central to achieving this and that is my challenge to you today.”

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

Join us in September to continue the conversation about wellbeing with the wider REBA community. The virtual Employee Wellbeing Congress will provided the opportunity to learn, network and exchange ideas as we rethink the future workplace. 

Watch Debi O’Donovan’s Rethink reward: what the coronavirus crisis is teaching reward and benefits directors presentation.

Read the latest findings from REBA’s June snap survey into employers’ coronavirus responses.

You can find the other results from REBA’s snap surveys – that ran during March, April and May – in the Reports section of the REBA website.

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