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'Work hard-play hard' is out as employers adapt rewards for the modern day

Christina Kelly, Reward Manager at Reward Gateway

February 9 2024 - The world of work is changing. But a simple glance at the headlines would have anyone believe that the 'Great Resignation or 'WFH revolution' means all workers think in the same way.

But this is far from the truth. There are six different workplace personas, according to a new report from the Henley Business School. They include salary-driven weekend workers (13% of us), and the socially conscious (15%). But by far the most common group is work-life balance advocates at 39%.

This group values flexible working, aim for unlimited leave, and generally look for an employer that allows us to balance work and life commitments effectively. Clearly, a traditional reward and recognition package no longer cuts it.

So, how can employers evolve from traditional reward packages into benefits that the majority of us will value today and for years to come? Read on as I explore why Employee Value Propositions (EVPs) are changing, and where employees should be heading:

The way we reward employees is changing

The pandemic, Great Resignation, Great Readjustment, and current cost-of-living crisis have shifted the employee-employer dynamic over the last few years.

Reward and benefit expectations are higher than ever, with approaches rapidly shifting from offline rigid recognition structures to online flexible benefits. Before the generational and technological shift that brought reward and recognition into the 21st century, there was a reliance on managers to give physical gifts for birthdays or work anniversaries, and the biggest, or only, wellbeing benefit was health insurance. Boomers and Gen X didn't expect their employer to provide regular rewards and instead looked to pay rises and manager feedback as recognition of their work.

Now, with the rising expectations of millennials and Gen Z coupled with increasing employee sick leave, benefits are designed to support the overall holistic wellbeing of employees and their loved ones, focusing on health, family, finance, workplace, social, professional, and time off. Accelerated by the pandemic, all employees have reassessed their priorities, yet Gen Z remains a driving force in the move to better benefits. In fact, over a fifth of Gen Z workers are quitting jobs that don't give them the benefits they want - more than any other generation in the workforce. The growing importance of mental health and wellbeing provisions to support our work-life balance, particularly among young people, has become a key element in shaping reward programmes.

Giving employees the personalised benefits they deserve

We now recognise that there is a crucial role and connection between workplace benefits and employee wellness, and reward has become a vital part of HR strategy. In fact, 1 in 5 of those looking for a new employer said it was because their employer does not care about their wellbeing. Now, key friction points are found between what used to be considered benefits and what are now seen as hygiene factors. Group life, group income and the more traditional insurance benefits are now seen as a given. It's the additional rewards that employers provide that help them stand out from the crowd and provide employees with the tools to have a better work-life balance.

For instance, providing a wellbeing allowance gives every employee the flexibility to choose the right benefit for their needs, whether that be one-to-one counselling, yoga classes, or art supplies for mindful activities. For employee peace of mind, providing a 'get home safe' benefit that allows employees to expense a journey home if they find themselves in a vulnerable situation, or catering to all employees' needs with 'grandternity leave' or 'pawternity leave' gives full flexibility of benefits.

Retaining staff means better rewards that think outside the box. It's much easier for prospective and existing employees to compare rewards, with many employers listing all benefits and salaries on job listing sites. This can make it hard for employers who lack a robust reward strategy to show that they have a broad benefit offering or to highlight this critical element of their EVP.

The future looks flexible

As we look to the future of reward and recognition, employers will need to use their data to identify where benefits are lacking - and act accordingly. This will prove vital to shaping not just the reward strategy but also the broader people strategy. This opens the door for AI and data analytics, enhancing HR platform capabilities, offering higher levels of personalisation, and increased opportunities for automation.

For example, to make recognition feel more personal, systems can automatically suggest rewards to employees who have flagged interests or fit particular criteria. Someone who loves running might see rewards like exclusive gym memberships or discounts on fitness brands on their benefits homepage, whereas someone who has recently had a baby might find parental wellbeing resources and childcare benefits. This ensures that rewards are as distinctive and heartfelt as the individuals receiving them.

A focus on personal wellbeing and financial support is no longer seen as a progressive offering, but standard practice in the benefit space. More and more, employees are prioritising wellbeing over work - and employers are racing to keep up with their needs. The link between employee health and happiness and its impact on the workplace has never been so clear. Employers need to make sure they are there, they are listening, and they are offering the right support.


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