Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Benefits professionals demonstrate their worth

This month sees the largest-ever gathering of benefits and reward professionals from across the industry.

As we go to press, we can see that, with a week to go, more than 1,100 people have booked over 5,000 conference sessions at Employee Benefits Live. And the number of people pre-registering for the exhibition is well over double that number.

Given that benefits can be seen as a niche market, this huge interest demonstrates the ever-growing importance of reward as a business tool. As one of our benefits leaders in this month’s cover story (see page 20) points out.

“For me, reward is the bridge between revenue to the company and the people it employs,” says Susan Hughes, policy manager for UK pensions and benefits at BP.

The idea that employers still see themselves as paternalistic providers of reward and benefits is very old-fashioned. Rather, in 2010, each element of reward is carefully selected to drive a specific business need.

From shares and bonuses to healthcare and voluntary benefits, if it is not helping your organisation achieve its goals, then serious questions need to be asked as to why that particular perk is being offered.

This means that today’s reward and benefits leaders need to be strongly business-minded and be fully in touch with the corporate agenda. This shines through strongly from the eleven benefits leaders we met up with last month for this issue’s cover story.

Over the course of the day, between interviews, photo shoots and over lunch, the group chatted about how they had dealt with reward during mergers and acquisitions, both globally and locally (of which there appears to have been an upsurge during the recession as firms were being rescued), service providers (who is good and who is bad, and who charges what), unions (the good, the bad, and the ugly side of negotiations) and, of course, their anxious wait for the government’s final announcements on pensions tax for the higher-paid and upcoming changes on auto-enrolment, compulsory contributions and the introduction of the national employment savings trust (Nest).

The role of the reward and benefits manager is challenging, and not for the faint-hearted.

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