How can total reward packages motivate employees post furlough?

Need to know:

  • One way to motivate employees after being on furlough is for employers to simply ask them what they need or want and to tailor the rewards package to this.
  • There is an understanding that communication around rewards packages needs to be clear, and this needs to be underpinned by emotional and financial wellbeing tools and resources.
  • Employees want more flexibility to personalise and tailor benefits for themselves, as a one-size-fits-all package does not always fit.

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has drastically changed the way in which employees work, resulting in many undertaking work responsibilities from their own home and some being placed on furlough leave. As some furlough schemes end or organisations begin to open up their physical workplaces again, many employees are starting to head back to work after months of being away.

Motivation after leave

Sarah Jefferys, consultancy lead at Gallagher, believes a good way to motivate employees after being on furlough is for employers to simply ask them what they need or want and to tailor the rewards to this. “[Employers should] be open with employees about [the] reward strategy and look at whether it is aligned with any changes in [the] organisation, as some will find that they are operating in a completely different environment than they were before the pandemic and may be asking employees to do their job differently to how they were before,” she says.

Employers may want to review their total rewards strategy to see if it is fit for purpose, and to communicate that to staff to give people a sense of purpose when returning to work. “Pay rises may vary by sector, so look at how each one has been affected,” says Jefferys. “If there will be no pay rise, [employers should] be open about that or any other benefits that may be paused. Ask how people will be rewarded, what will they get out of it instead of a pay rise, for example?”

Motivating and engaging people returning from furlough, as well as managing stress levels, are some of the challenges faced by businesses at the moment, with some staff returning from furlough struggling with their broader mental wellbeing and financial stress. “[Employers] are now focusing on their total rewards packages and asking what they can do with what they have to help people find motivation again,” says Eva Jesmiatka, director of rewards at Willis Towers Watson.

For those returning from furlough, employers could manage staff anxiety by demonstrating health and wellbeing rewards packages in a clear manner to help ease the return to work. Iain Thomson, Sodexo Exchange’s director of incentive and recognition, suggests that employers need to remind people what benefits packages are offered, such as training, remote learning packages and discount platforms, and that all packages need to appeal to as many people as possible.

“Wellbeing and mental health are so critical, anything employers can do to recognise and help manage these in a confidential way are important. Good communication and channels are key for businesses, be honest and transparent with what the expectations of employees are going forward. The rewards package needs to include a clear message of where the organisation’s going, its objectives and its challenges,” he says.

Wellbeing support

Some employees returning to work after furlough leave may need support with their financial or emotional wellbeing, and employers may need to consider what the most appropriate action would be for each circumstance. As employers review their rewards packages to provide something more fit for the current climate, there are lots of options such as apps for wellbeing, health and finances to help with people’s approach to money, and how to plan and manage it. “[Employers] should also make the most of what they already offer in terms of benefits, so that employees understand what is there. In terms of rewards, ask if bonuses are appropriate right now? If not, [they] might want to change the current measures,” says Jefferys.

Employers may also want to provide independent and confidential services for financial advice, for example, on how to manage budgets, savings, and pensions. “[If employers can] provide confidential third-party services for wellbeing, employees are far more likely to use that service than someone internally. There is still a stigma around poor financial management, so confidential services may work better,” Thomson says.

As a result of the pandemic, many people are worrying about their own health and their financial health due to furlough or business downturn.

“I think employers need to have an honest approach to these matters with employees and discuss them in a human way, again perhaps promoting and reminding employees of benefits like an employee assistance programme, which is often overlooked or financial planning support, with tools that are becoming more common in the market,” says Chris Wakely, Benify’s executive vice president of global enterprise.

Communication of total reward

A total rewards package needs to be communicated effectively so as to provide the best possible solutions for each employee’s situation.

“Employees might not know what exists in their [organisations] to support them. Often employee assistance plans exist but are not always used, as people are not aware of them. By focusing on motivation for those coming back from furlough, rewards packages could include offering people opportunities to develop in their career, to upskill or reskill, as well as physical, mental, financial wellbeing programmes to support those in difficult times and to manage stress levels,” says Jesmiatka.

Being open and transparent with no difference in treatment between those on furlough and those not is important for equality in a workforce. “The key is to over-communicate while being fair throughout,” Jefferys says. “Plans need to be perceived to be fair for everyone. [Employers] have a responsibility to be seen to do the right thing, with good diverse strategies to give [them] the edge in order to attract and retain employees.”

A carefully constructed and communicated total rewards package can be used to attract and retain employees even more so during the pandemic, and employers should be looking at what they can, or do, offer over and above salary, pensions and career development opportunities.

“Supporting wellbeing was already a trend before Covid-19 and has since been accelerated,” says Jesmiatka.“Wellbeing allowances have been put into place that are relevant to each person, such as physical, mental, financial debt management or advisers in order to make them more attractive as [an employer]. More effort into understanding of what people want is prevalent too, as [employers] offer more flexibility to personalise and tailor benefits for employees as a one-size-fits all package doesn’t work.”

Regarding communicating benefits to all employees, Thomson says employers should repeat the message beyond the window at the start of the year for employees to opt in, as many employees dip in and out of benefits. “Make it part of [their] communication to advertise benefits,” he adds.

The most effective way of using a total reward approach to engage and motivate employees is to be clear on what is offered and ensure it is well communicated to all staff.