EXCLUSIVE: Microsoft introduces leave benefits to support employees through pandemic

Employee Benefits Live 2021: The pandemic forced the hand of employers to look at how to adapt benefit strategies to best support employees through challenging times, said Tim Robertson, Emea compensation and benefits lead at Microsoft.

Robertson, (pictured) addressed delegates at Employee Benefits Live 2021, at London’s Excel, in a panel session titled ‘Reimagining the future of work and benefits’, and explained how the multinational technology organisation has had to create a fair reward approach for a distributed workforce.

Microsoft has essential employees working in its data centres, and so a large proportion of its workforce could not work from home.

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“The challenge is in managing two distinct populations while trying to encourage collaboration and innovation,” said Robertson.

Many benefits offered by the employer were centered on the physical workplace, such as onsite cafeterias and gyms, but the pandemic and resulting home working meant that the employer had to consider how to offer a fair proposition for those two populations.

Part of this proposal included leave benefits: Microsoft offered employees with caring responsibilities, such as working parents that had to home school during the closures, paid leave. It also offered volunteering days and armed forces reservist leave when the government called on people to help support the NHS during the lockdowns.

Robertson explained that Microsoft is responsive to employees needs’ and provides benefits that are suggested by its workforce, such as fertility support services.

Stella McCartney is also adapting its benefits provision around employees wants and needs, explained global head of pay and reward, Dommy Szymanska.

The fashion brand is undertaking an employee survey to find out the value that benefits can bring to employees’ lives, and which ones they prefer.

“In 2022, we are planning a more tailored approach,” Szymanska said. “We are looking at how to tailor benefits for people who want to work in the office, and for people who are working from home.”

Szymanska explained to delegates that Stella McCartney made some changes during the pandemic to support employees’ wellbeing and help them to manage their work-life balance. This included a core hour policy whereby employees have to work from 10am to 3pm, but are able to work flexibly around those hours, with meeting-free Fridays also encouraged.