Chris Coyne: Learning to deliver total reward

Total reward is an everyday phrase in our industry. But while the concept is long established, how many employers can claim to genuinely deliver a total reward strategy? Is there a gap between language and practice?


My view is yes, there is something missing in most organisations from true total reward that drives performance.

Whichever total reward model employers use, it is likely that it can be broken down into four blocks: base pay, variable pay, employee benefits and non-cash reward.

Theory suggests investment in each of these needs to be balanced for individuals to feel rewarded and to drive business performance.

The level of investment in each will differ between organisations depending on purpose, strategy and type of workforce. But it is the last element, non-cash reward, that I believe needs far more attention.

As an industry, we spend a huge amount of time where we are intrinsically most comfortable and experienced: looking at compensation. Significant effort is put into designing pay and employee benefits strategies, or building complex incentive programmes. 

Some financial services organisations employ whole teams focused on delivering annual compensation reviews. And large sums are spent on technology to deliver these solutions; in the UK, one estimate puts the annual spend on flexible benefits platforms at £20 million.

But if investment in compensation strategies supports HR’s remit to attract and retain staff, evidence about how it drives business performance seems sparse. 

If we were to pay as much attention to non-cash reward, I believe the value added by our profession could increase significantly. To be fair, an increasing amount is being written and done about this, for example around recognition programmes, job design, culture change or communicating purpose and values. But very little is said about investment in learning as part of a total reward strategy.

Hot 100 Club – Lorica - 2014

Well-designed learning programmes have a proven return (as much as a 42% improvement in employee performance, according to one study). Great for the employer, but from the employee’s perspective, the feeling that their career is developing through training, qualifications or accreditation is an engaging one, and a considerable element of the overall holistic reward offer.

So why don’t we put more effort into thinking about it as such?

Most of us now use online total reward statements and technology to manage and choose benefits. The benefits technology market is well established, but consider the fact that there are now 532 e-learning organisations in the UK. How powerful could it be if learning and benefits technology could be integrated?

Alongside choosing their benefits, employees might also see their learning options, perhaps mapped to a career and accreditation framework that shows their employer’s real investment in them.

Clearly, the weighting of cash and non-cash reward must vary by organisation. But with talent development becoming more of a priority across all industries, isn’t it time we embraced learning and development as part of a total reward strategy? The impact could be significant, and rewarding on many levels.

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Chris Coyne is head of reward and HR services at City and Guilds

The Hot 100 Club comprises industry leading lights who have contributed to Employee Benefits