Will your global employee benefits strategy be fit for purpose post Covid-19?



22 June 2020

Is Your Company's Employee Benefits Strategy Ready For Post Covid-19 ?

Adam J. Riley, Global Client Development and Head, Legal Sector Practice, shares his thoughts.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the importance of employee benefits. As a result, many companies will be starting to assess the robustness of their benefits strategy and if it will be fit for purpose for the future.

One positive outcome of the crisis is we expect to see more employers globally focus on their health and wellbeing benefits. According to Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA), one in four employers have increased spending on employee assistance programmes (EAPs) because of COVID-191. One in eight employers (13%) also increased spending on their existing virtual GP service while a further 8% have introduced virtual GPs for the first time.

Many domestic and multinational organisations will be adapting their benefits for the post Covid-19 world, and addressing the “return to work” strategy to ensure their wider benefits are fit for purpose to support local national employees, third-country nationals and the movement of expatriate staff across the globe. This will include enhancing mental health services, promoting the value of existing programmes and supporting employee financial wellbeing, amongst other areas.

A Global View

I recently spoke at a REBA webinar that discussed how companies were responding to the coronavirus pandemic from a global reward and wellbeing perspective. Spokespeople from three multinational companies - Jaguar Land Rover, WPP and Wood all shared their experiences.

These companies have several thousand employees in countries around the world. While their experiences of dealing with the pandemic have been different due to the nature and structures of their businesses, a common theme was that a ‘one size fits all approach’ to employee benefits is no longer appropriate.

They agreed that while every business needs an overarching global strategy and philosophy that dovetails with corporate objectives, the strategy needs to be flexible and adapted so it can be locally executed and tailored to the needs of employees in different countries.

Since the pandemic, some of our multinational clients have also shared the challenges which they have faced in terms of delivering an international employee benefits strategy.

We learned that the experiences of employees during the pandemic have varied enormously, depending on the country, the nature of their role and the support offered by different governments and healthcare systems.

Many employees have been furloughed (if schemes exist in different countries) or are working from home which has raised issues around social isolation, wellbeing, and mental health. As a result, the type of support and benefits that employees have needed have varied globally.

One common theme has been that the pandemic has been a catalyst for more companies recognising that a global benefits strategy must be flexible enough to account for differences in culture, attitudes, and healthcare systems. I wrote an article on this last year which looked at different attitudes to health and wellbeing in countries such as Australia, UAE and Russia; whilst the approaches remain the same, every country has been impacted by Covid-19 resulting in a much needed micro review of the sustainability of existing HR & Benefits strategies and the wider Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

The Importance of Data

The important role data plays in creating a global benefits strategy has also been widely recognised. Having accurate employee data can help companies gain better insight into their policies, claims and spending. It can help businesses design and implement an effective benefits strategy specifically tailored to their unique situation, employee needs and budget.

However, it can be a major challenge for some multinational organisation to access one trustworthy source of employee data, as many do not use global HR systems and are working from spreadsheets.

By analysing and understanding employee-related data companies can truly shape a bespoke solution that meets their business objectives and maximises their total benefits spend. How companies collate and use people data after this pandemic is a massive talking point right now and we expect this issue to be at the top of the leadership agenda throughout the rest of 2020 and well into 2021.

Employee Benefits Post-Covid 19

Post Covid-19, employers will be focused on improving their strategies around mental health and looking at how they can drive further efficiencies and mitigate against future risks, such as increased premiums for medical benefits. They will also be looking at the sustainability of their business as the global economy recovers.

Now is the ideal time for companies to go back to basics and look at the structure of their benefits offering and see if it needs to evolve.

A global benefits strategy must link into the wider HR and Benefits strategy, as well as the corporate objectives and vision but also reflect any changes that have occurred in the workforce since the pandemic.

For example, the crisis has accelerated the trend for people working from home. This is likely to continue for some time, if not indefinitely for some employees. And as a result, HR teams are now reconsidering their longer-term approach to flexible working and their related policies.

The move towards remote working has also presented a new opportunity for companies to address the needs of a multi-generational workforce. Many organisations now have up to five different generations of employees, from those in their 20s to those who are still working into their 70s and beyond.

If remote and flexible working were incorporated into the employee benefits strategy more permanently this could prove attractive to employees of all ages, from different regions and help companies retain their ageing workforce and attract new talent.

In the post Covid-19 world, we believe employers will want to focus on personalising their benefits to meet the evolving needs of the workforce.

Digital technologies and data analytics can give organisations the insight and tools to be able to do this effectively. For companies operating globally, having local expertise will also be key to understanding different cultures, attitudes and needs of employees in different countries.

As organisations around the world are now preparing to welcome people back to work and resume ‘business as normal’, they will be reflecting on what has happened this year and how they need to change their working environments and benefits. Will their benefits be fit for purpose or are major changes needed? One certainty is the importance of supporting employee health and wellbeing can no longer be overlooked.

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About Adam J. Riley

Director, Global Client Development and Head, Legal Sector Practice

Adam is a dual-national (Australian / British) and a Senior Global Benefits and Legal Sector expert with over 20 years’ experience. He specialises in UK domestic employers, cross-border transactions and working with multinational organisations.

Adam is a member of the Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing Executive Committee, Chairman of Howden’s Employee Benefits UK Development Group and is Head of the UK’s Legal Sector Practice. He is responsible for the UK’s Employee Benefits & Wellbeing business’ global client development, including our Multinational and UK Legal Sector Practice, and collaborates with our Howden international offices.

Adam is widely regarded as a thought leader on Global Benefits and is regularly invited to speak at events around the world. He has a particular interest in mental health and employee wellbeing and works closely with clients to help them implement effective benefit solutions for their global workforces.

Connect with Adam here.

1 https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/employers-boost-wellbeing-funding-during-coronavirus-pandemic