The pace of business change over the past few months has been staggering and is showing no signs of slowing. Employers are now entering a transformation phase as they realign their reward and benefits for a future of work that is more sustainable, global and autonomous.


REBA’s exclusive Transforming Workplace Engagement for Competitive Advantage virtual roundtable event, in association with Mercer Marsh Benefits, brought senior reward professionals from an array of sectors together to discuss the huge workforce changes which are necessitating transformational thinking on employee engagement.


The attendees considered the cultural changes and risks that are now front of mind for CEOs and, for many, retaining and attracting talent was seen as a key focus.

The war for talent


There has always been high demand for talent, particularly in sectors where there are skills shortages, however the pandemic has opened up new opportunities for both employees and employers. For employees, the acceptance that remote working (for some roles at least) is a viable option opens out the job opportunities available to them. This, of course, is also a positive for employers, who can now source talent from a broader pool of people, but it also comes with its downsides – retaining employees could become even more difficult.


Our attendees highlighted that this is where reward and benefit strategies have a massive role to play, not just in ensuring that pay is fair and benefits are competitive, but in providing a reward strategy that enables free movement of employees across an organisation and its different divisions.


By ensuring that reward and benefits are level with no disparities, barriers to the movement of employees across an organisation are removed, making it easier to place talent where it is needed. Coupled with changing job architectures to be more skills-focused, employers will be able to look internally for the skills they need, rather than turning to an external jobs market.



Linked to the war for talent is the idea of borderless working. Again, with the rise of remote working, employees have the potential to be based from anywhere in the world, with employers able to recruit internally for roles that previously may have required relocation.


This change alone means that there is even more emphasis on the need to engage employees with the organisation and its values and purpose, as well as communicating the opportunities available for upward career mobility.


Coupled with this is the increasing need for global alignment. Many of the attendees at the breakfast event noted that their organisations were going through a period of global growth, driven by the digital transformation of the past few years. And so, by ensuring reward and benefits are globally aligned – although enabling local flexibility to take into account cultural differences – businesses can again ensure consistency across their divisions.


Global alignment also has broader implications for reward and benefits. Although the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) agenda has been front of mind for some time, the need to ensure that your reward strategy and benefits offerings are inclusive has become even more critical. Business growth, employee wellbeing and DEI need to be balanced to create supportive workplace cultures that are centred around care – be it for the individual or for the environment.


These cultural shifts – globalisation, broader talent pools, greater inclusion, the sustainability agenda and employee wellbeing – are all underpinned by the need to transform reward and benefits to engage employees with wider business strategy objectives.


Cultural change takes time – whether it’s an improvement, an alignment or a streamline, it’s a long journey but a good one. So how are businesses looking to engage and retain their employees throughout these cultural shifts?

Effective engagement


Central to any change or transformation is the need for engagement. Over the past year, many organisations have benefited from a high level of engagement where communications from senior leadership teams have been more open and honest. A primary concern of many of our breakfast event attendees was how to retain this level of engagement and build on it.


At REBA we often talk about the importance of data to drive reward strategy. Yet, automatically generated data needs to be complemented with person to person discussions to gain deeper insights. By using engagement partners to supplement digital surveys, individuals can feel empowered to speak up about things going on in their business area, which can then be escalated up to board level or to HR, delivering more inclusive feedback.


Open communication lines are not the only area to address. With changing ways of working, benefits and wellness offerings should be aligned to employees’ needs and, to optimise engagement with benefits, employers need to be able to demonstrate the value that these bring.


One of the biggest challenges with a more flexible and borderless approach to talent acquisition is how to maintain social moments and interactions. Employee engagement often relates to the people and culture that we work in, and so the role of reward and recognition will be fundamental in connecting peers to build an engaged workforce with a sense of community wellbeing.

Rapid transformation


At the current pace of change, the breakfast attendees felt that three to five year visions were ambitious. Three years was seen as the best horizon that they could look to. And although that may sound like a significant period of time, as recent experience has taught us, things could be very different in three years.


With the reappraising of reward strategy, global alignment and more autonomy over our working lives, the reward landscape is set for rapid transformation over the coming years.


For even more insight into the future direction of reward and benefits, read the first report in our Transforming Engagement Series: People risk: why the need for change is urgent.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

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