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No going back: how the benefits landscape has changed in a post-Covid world.

With the rise of more flexible ways of working, questions are being asked about traditional benefits packages.

The impact of the Covid lockdown has had multiple effects, some of which are still being navigated by organizations and their leaders today.

The accelerated move to more flexible working was probably the most significant. Hybrid working became something that was an integral part of any ‘return to the new normal’ debate and continues today. Emanuel Pfister, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany, says:


"The experiences of employers and employees during the pandemic accelerated a shift to greater flexibility and in attitudes to work and working."


This shift was already in motion before the pandemic. In 2019, half of business professionals globally reported that they already worked outside of one of their main office locations half the week or more. And worker demand for flexible working had risen from 70% in 2017 to 75% in the year before Covid-19.


A 2023 Gallup survey found something equally significant: people’s engagement with their job and thus their level of productivity nearly four times as much influence on employee stress as work location. In other words, how people feel about their job has a lot more to do with their relationship with their team and manager than being remote or being on-site. Benefits are a big influence on those feelings.


Rethinking the package


Once an organization moves to a more broadly dispersed workforce approach, the current corporate benefits package might well begin to look somewhat inappropriate


Why should any organization offer contributions to commuting costs if there is much less travelling to and from the office? Surely a benefit that, for example, contributes to optimizing the at-home working environment would be a better option. Or investing more in the quality of any all-staff gatherings when those in-person events are called for.


Time for benchmarking


"If distance is no longer a barrier to employing the best talent, organizations can access talent pools that were previously not reachable. However, it does mean examining whether current benefits are still relevant to those newcomers and their circumstances. Benchmarking your organization’s benefits much more widely would be the first step in understanding whether a new benefits strategy is required,"


says Ramona Kraft, Pricipal at Odgers Berndtson Germany.


Keeping mental health in mind


One direct learning from the Covid lockdown is that while many employees embraced remote and hybrid work, there was also the clear risk of them becoming isolated without the structure of an office or other workplace.


In response, mental health issues have risen up the corporate agenda, as has the ongoing question of how to meet the needs of this more dispersed workforce.


Employers have responded by ensuring their employees have easy access to care and enhanced mental health support, often built into formal health benefit packages, but also addressed in other ways that are integral to their corporate culture.


The flexible working benefit also enables organizations to improve diversity within the workplace, assisting those with familial demands, or personal challenges to stay within the workforce and continue to be productive.

The lockdown emergency had provided organizations with a much closer idea of the home life of their employees, and revealed many of the life challenges that had hitherto remained invisible and were not being addressed by their current benefits packages.


Ask first


But, before any changes to benefits are made, employers in a recent survey shared an important insight. In their view, any changes to benefits should begin by engaging with employees and really listening to them. What is it that they really want, or not want?


Ongoing data review and assessment of employee benefit usage and satisfaction is also important when designing and redesigning benefit plans. And it’s not just about prioritizing the benefits that work, but also identifying those that do not. Clearly, this can have a direct impact on reducing costs on benefits that are underused and thus being able to redirect resources.


Some employers have learned lessons from the Corona crisis in terms of how they change benefits.


Professional services firm EY had pivoted to a "test and learn" model during the lockdown. They quickly established new benefits, then analyzed how well they were working. If they were well-received by employees, they stayed, if not, they were retired or modified.


Of course, it’s not practical to continually alter benefits, but the principle is a sound one. Employers should always strive to create an environment where their employees not only comprehend their benefits but also feel that they have a voice in determining what is offered to them.


The whole package


The final word goes to IBI Researcher Sera-Leigh Ghouralal PHD, summarizing a recent survey by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a health and productivity research non-profit. “More and more employees are looking for a holistic package of well-being, meaningful work, and customizable benefits. Employers offering the “whole package” are going to stand out and be successful in their attraction and retention efforts.”


To discuss your organization’s current talent plans and related benefits packages, or if you want to explore your individual career potential and ambitions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll be keen to hear from you.


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