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The pandemic has transformed our approach to work. With many employers trying to define what hybrid working looks like for their organisation and others wanting to be known as a family-friendly workplace, the focus on the individual and the value they derive from the benefits on offer is crucial.

According to our UK Reward Management Survey, 63 per cent of employers are reviewing their benefits packages annually. This review will involve considering whether they are creating a workplace that recognises and accommodates the personal challenges their people face.

Sustained challenges

Constrained pay awards combined with the impact that the Ukrainian war is having on the global economic landscape means that the pressure on employees is unrelenting. Post-pandemic, many had hoped for a pay landscape that was buoyed by renewed optimism following the series of lockdowns. Instead, our UK Reward Management Survey highlights that pay reviews are still predominantly three per cent, which falls significantly below inflation levels. Furthermore, recruitment and retention challenges facing employers are back to pre-pandemic levels.

While employees grapple with the rising cost of living, employers face rising costs, including the 1.25 per cent National Insurance rise since April 2022. Affordability is a key concern when planning reward strategies and employers are being cautious around the pay awards they are setting this year; they want to balance meeting employee requirements whilst avoiding setting precedents of seven per cent that some are considering at this point. One in five are actively improving, and 29 per cent are considering improving, their benefits provision as a direct outcome of needing to mitigate pay reviews.

Greater focus on the individual

We are seeing a greater number of life events being factored into HR policies, possibly helped along by the increased activity around diversity and inclusion initiatives. The pandemic has seen an increased focus on looking after people, with a greater awareness of the impact of carer responsibilities, fertility treatments and the time off that is required for dependants.

Have you recently reviewed your leave policy in any of the following areas?

Respondents reported a designated number of days leave for employees facing the following circumstances:

How many days leave do you offer for each of the following, per annum?

The pandemic highlighted the increasing blend of family and professional life, as many had to work around their children making appearances on zoom calls, being unable to compartmentalise work and home life. 36 per cent have reviewed leave policies for emergency family leave for dependants, in greater recognition of the need to support employees trying to balance work and home life. This also encompasses offering designated leave for charity and voluntary work which can also align with the values of the organisation. Individuals and their priorities are being increasingly viewed holistically.

Major lifetime milestones

Menopause wellbeing has been enshrined in policy for many organisations, such as the BMA, who has extended their policy to encompass menstruation too, given the debilitating effect that this can have on employees. Our UK Reward Management Survey highlighted how 52 per cent have reviewed the leave they offer to those going through the menopause, with a median of 7.5 days and 30 days of paid and unpaid leave, respectively. This bandwidth of days offered by employers recognises the sustained and transitory nature of events like the menopause, again giving discretion to employees in how they manage this.

Financial services software provider Phoebus Software has introduced a menopause wellbeing policy; 30 per cent of employees are female. Awareness of the issues inherent in this lifetime event has increased with greater talk about the effects of menopause in the mainstream media. From celebrities talking about their personal struggles in documentaries, to interviews on news programmes, the policies are designed to further support women in seeking the support they may need. There is an important educational dimension to this approach, as the support is made available to women and men, who may have partners going through this experience, but can also help to create an environment of transparency and openness.

Some are building this education into the approach to mental health policies in their business. Offering the right level of support based on the individual is crucial, but removing stigma attached to talking about these issues is paramount.  Customer interaction management business Critizr has introduced a menstrual and miscarriage leave policy as a reflection of a global awareness that employers should be more respectful of the physical and psychological health of employees.

“With these measures, we want to go beyond our legal and contractual obligations and support our employees during the difficult times they may be going through, when working can be difficult – if not impossible.”

Xavier Molinié, Vice President of Human Resources at Critizr

The policy is intended to ensure that everyone has ‘the space and comfort to fulfil their potential’, again customising the policy to individual circumstances so that each employee is equipped to deal with personal challenges and knows that designated leave is there if they need it.

couple discussing bills

Greater flexibility

Anecdotally in HR Groups, benchmarking is helping to maintain competitive pay, but employers are increasingly reviewing whether their policies are family friendly to attract and retain top talent. 80 per cent of fathers at Aviva have taken five months of paternity leave, demonstrating the uptake of equal parental leave that has transformed in recent years through the introduction of shared parental leave.

By looking at individuals’ priorities holistically, flexibility and trust that hybrid working models offer can be a more attractive proposition for candidates who have become used to working from home over the pandemic and working around other responsibilities. Student workforce app Stint has introduced unlimited holiday for all of its 150 employees and staff can decide where they work best on a daily basis. Flexibility is at the forefront of the employee experience to prioritise a healthy work-life balance and wellbeing is considered inside and outside of the office.

Diversity and inclusion

Inclusion policies can be enhanced through leave policies. Australian beverage business Lion has added new paid options to further its inclusion and diversity framework, to include 10 days of gender affirmation leave. The business’ policies include paid leave for anyone affected by the loss of a child by stillbirth and for women who suffer miscarriage.

“It is absolutely vital that we recognise that having a genuinely inclusive culture depends on us considering the needs of our people from all different perspectives, whether that is their gender, sexuality, culture, religion, or family situation.”

Alicia Purtell, People and Culture Director at Lion

The definition of family in people policies by the brewery has also been extended to include the concept of kinship, recognising that family is defined as more extensive for First Nations and Clan groups. This comes back to the shift in employers accommodating the individual by understanding their priorities and their wider culture.

Total Reward Statements

Employers are increasingly requesting information about Total Reward Statements, as they look to strengthen the employer and employee relationship by highlighting the value employees derive from financial investments and the wider valuable benefits on offer, which can cover leave policies. Greater understanding and flexibility that the employer is fostering throughout their organisation can be recognised in the statement itself, which outlines the days of paid or unpaid leave that the employee could access to support them through difficult times.

Get in touch

Benefits offer true value to employees when they offer the level of support they require. Employers are increasingly analysing whether their policies are sufficient to meet a plethora of individual needs. Reviewing leave policies can boost reward packages for employees, driving down employee turnover, whilst also enabling employers to access a greater, more diverse range of talent. Offering more discretion and support can create greater opportunity for those who have other responsibilities to enter and maintain full time work. We can help you plan your approach to defining a leave policy that fits with your employee value proposition and vision for your culture – get in touch today.

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