I always said that when I got older, I would never say things like: ‘Well in my day…’ or ‘I remember when…’. But, as I look at the world around me and consider the effect ‘progress’ is having on people and employees, I have found myself doing just that.
The pace of change has been rapid since I started working. These days, people face much larger financial pressures and fast-moving technological innovations, they are living longer, meaning longer working lives, and there is a much greater awareness of the world around us, which affects our sensibilities and leads us to reflect on what is important to us. All these issues have an impact on people and not everyone is able to cope well with all of life’s challenges.
Let’s take financial issues – in my day, unless you went out partying every night and spent a fortune shopping, you didn’t come out of university with massive student debt. My tuition was paid for and I got a grant to live on. In fact, as I had a regular weekend job, I came out with money in the bank. No more – according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2017, a student in England is going to leave university with an average debt of over £50,000.1 According to the Office of National Statistics, the median household disposable income in the UK was £28,400 in the financial year ending 2018.2 In comparison therefore, student debt is a massive burden to carry at the start of your working life.
Housing is another area that is having a big impact. I remember buying my first flat in 1987 with a deposit of £3,500. The soaring cost of housing makes it almost impossible for young people to get on the property ladder now without help from ‘the bank of mum and dad’, and the problem is exacerbated by the high cost of renting, making saving up for a deposit on a house very hard. The fact that people now struggle to afford to buy also means that they will have no equity behind them when they come to retire and, traditionally, property has formed a large part of retirement financing – which brings me to general savings.
Legal & General’s Deadline to the Breadline 3 report makes sober reading – according to its research, 23 per cent of UK employees do not save any of their income each month so could be on the breadline tomorrow if they lost their jobs. Households save on average £321 per month. It would therefore take over eight years to save one year’s average UK gross salary. Very worryingly, the average UK household debt is now £4,674.
Financial worries are one of the biggest causes of stress. WillisTowersWatson surveyed over 2,800 employees at medium and large private sector companies in the UK between July and August 2017.4 Financial circumstances were cited as the biggest cause of stress by 38 per cent of respondents, with almost half (47 per cent) of millennials saying it was their number one source of stress.4 This is almost twice as many as their ‘baby boomer’ parents.
People are also living longer. In their book, The 100 Year Life, Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton cite research that shows that around 50 per cent of people born in the early 2000s are likely to live beyond the age of 100.5 This has an interesting impact on quality of life, length of time working and retirement savings. In the past, people retired at 60 or 65 and died in their 70s or early 80s. Working life was around 35–40 years and retirement lasted for 10–20 years. If people now live to beyond 100 years, it means their working life either extends to over 50 years or people must save enough money to last them over 30 years.
Working for longer may mean that the nature of that work also changes. In the past, people had one career in one company. These days, people may hold the same job but change employers several times during their working life. In the future, it is anticipated that people will have a portfolio career. This means that they may start out in a certain job but then may take a sabbatical, go travelling, work remotely for a while, start their own business or change job completely. If this is the future, employees are going to have to be adept at coping with change and employers are going to have to embrace flexibility.
Long life also brings with it health issues – keeping fit and healthy, both mentally and physically, is vitally important if you are to keep working for 50 years or your retirement stretches into decades. It takes a real mindset change – how are people going to invest in the second part of their lives?
Pace of change
Then we come to technology – in my day, we wrote letters and then, maybe a week later, waited for the post to arrive with a reply. I remember the invention of word processors, testing email for the first time, the first portable (or, rather, ‘luggable’) PC, and my first mobile phone that was shaped like a brick, weighed the same as a brick and had a pull-up aerial.
In 1995, 16 million people or 0.4 per cent of the world’s population had access to the internet. In 2019, this has increased to 4,383 million or 56.8 per cent of the world’s population. It took radio approximately 38 years to reach a market audience of 50 million people, 13 years for television, three years for the iPod and apparently only 35 days for the online game, Angry Birds.6 The speed of communication and real-time reporting means that news travels immediately and we can watch disasters unfold before our eyes and be aware of what companies are doing as they do it. Over the last 10 years, we have watched the collapse of large companies and seen how bad business decisions, incentivised by profit and what has been felt to be ‘executive greed’, can impact the workforce and force thousands of people to lose their jobs. We have seen environmental disasters and pollution, equal pay issues and have become aware of the impact of plastic packaging and bad waste management. Technology means that potential employees (as well as other stakeholders like investors, customers and suppliers) can more easily form an opinion about a company and make a judgment about its actions.
This has had a major effect. There is an expectation now that companies should have a ‘social purpose’ and put something back into the communities where they are based and on which they rely. Profit can no longer be at the expense of ethical work practices and environmental considerations. Employees are doing their homework – after all, they will be expected to be an ambassador for the company where they work and be asked to promote its products. They have to feel comfortable doing that and therefore employees need to believe in their company’s culture and values. The generations of people currently living on the planet are the first to understand that they are actually in danger of destroying it. Employees therefore no longer just want to work for the best company in the world; they want to work for the best company for the world.
The changing world of technology also means the changing world of jobs. Roles like data analyst, app developer and digital marketer didn’t exist in my day. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI), it is likely that even jobs we know today won’t exist tomorrow either and new job titles will appear. It is said that in a four-year technical degree, half of what students learn in their first year will be out of date by their third year and that 65 per cent of today’s school children will hold jobs that don’t yet exist, using technology that hasn’t yet been invented, to solve problems we don’t yet know about.7,8,9
All this presents a challenge for companies, especially those that are ‘mature’, have grown up over several years or even decades, and are embedded in their ways. It is highly likely every big company has some employees who are concerned about their finances, who want or need to work longer, who are joining the company with a different view of the world, who are passionate about their environment, or who want to work more flexibly. How do we cope with the concept of ‘free-range’ employees who want lengthy career breaks, or want to hold a variety of different jobs, or to work flexibly from anywhere in the world? How do we attract, retain and motivate employees in this new era? How do we ensure that our employees are appropriately fit and able to produce their best inside work, if they have these new stresses to cope with outside work?
Attraction and retention
It’s time to turn to the role of employee benefits. The fundamental purpose of employee benefits is to attract, retain and motivate employees. They are often expensive to provide and, like any business proposal, should offer a return on their investment. This means that they should be valued by employees and used. While traditional benefits such as private health insurance and pension are still very valid, new types of benefits need to be considered that recognise, and can help with, the external social pressures now affecting people. In addition, given the vast range of issues facing employees, one size no longer fits all and the new suite of benefits offerings needs to be wide ranging and flexible to allow employees to use them both when, and where, they need them.
Companies face a number of dilemmas when considering these new kinds of benefits. First, they have to feel comfortable that helping employees to deal with some of the stresses they face outside of the office is neither being ‘paternalistic’ nor interfering in an employee’s private life. This is about providing a win-win situation – if employees are less stressed outside of work, they will be more focused at work. Another worry is about the cost of provision. With uncertain economic markets, cost-control and returns on investment are critical. Resources are another concern; as people are already stretched to capacity, how will they find the time to administer a new benefit. Finally, one of the biggest issues is what should they do? There seem to be so many areas to deal with that knowing where to begin can be hard.
Pillars of employee wellbeing
It helps to have a framework to work around and that brings me to the concept of employee ‘wellbeing’. The word first started to be used around 10 years ago but was less well defined as to what it really meant. Over time, as people have started to become more at ease talking about issues such as mental health, personal finances and the importance of work-life balance, the concept of wellbeing has been better understood and companies are starting to shape what it means for them. For me, there are five pillars of employee wellbeing:
Health – both physical and mental. This is not just acknowledging that employees feel ill from time to time or have a less good day. This is about truly recognising, understanding and supporting colleagues who may have mental health issues or a physical disability, whether visible or not. It is about helping employees in general to live better and to look after themselves.
Money – money worries are one of the greatest causes of stress. This is about helping employees to be financially confident on a short, medium and long-term basis.
Life – This pillar focuses on having a good work-life balance and includes how employees can contribute to the communities in which they live and work and to the causes that are important to them.
Working environment – This is not just about health and safety and having a pleasant working space, although these are, of course, important. It is about the company’s culture and values, its diversity and inclusion policies, and an employee’s relationships with managers and colleagues.
Learning and development – This is about being encouraged and having the ability to reach your potential, to be able to grow as a person as well as improve your skills.
These last two pillars, working environment and learning and development, are not traditionally seen as ‘benefits’ but are often the catalysts for employees leaving a company. When you choose a company to work for, you choose a lifestyle; if you are not in tune with a company’s values or you feel a ‘square peg in a round hole’ or are not able to have successful working relationships or feel that you can’t develop, then you are more likely to leave. These pillars are very important contributors to a person’s sense of wellbeing and therefore very important benefits.
Each one of us will feel differently about each of these pillars, but if we can individually find the right balance, then we will be better able to cope with the day-to-day pressures of life. We will have a better sense of personal ‘wellbeing’. This, in turn, will allow us to better concentrate at work and be more productive – a win-win for companies and employees and a good return on investment.
Having a structure under which to organise benefits costs nothing but helps companies to communicate them better – it gives a reason for providing them and showcases their purpose to employees. It also helps companies to focus resources – they don’t have to deal with everything at once but can maximise the value of what they already provide and pick one pillar to work on.
Companies can use these pillars to identify obvious gaps in provision and explore what else they could offer. It helps to talk to employees to see what issues are directly affecting them and what sort of help they would value. Surveys can be useful, as can be discussing in small focus groups. Companies need to be brave in asking the right questions – if the intention is to help, then employees are likely to be more responsive and more open in what they say.
New benefits that deal with these increasing social pressures are not necessarily expensive and there are a number of new suppliers and initiatives that are starting to appear on the market. What is required, is a degree of imagination and innovation to think outside the traditional benefit box and a general willingness to be a bit braver and try something new.
Tackling today’s issues
At Hays in the UK, we have launched a number of different benefits to try and tackle some of the issues affecting our employees. In 2016, in partnership with an external company, we launched an employee loan scheme. This was designed to help employees who may not have had a chance to build up a credit rating or have access to favourable interest rates, to get an affordable loan. Repayments are direct from payroll to help budgeting, and loans have been used to help with rental deposits and to consolidate high interest rate debt, resulting in employees saving money.
We have also partnered with a housing company to enable us to offer employees the chance to rent high standard accommodation in London and Manchester with no rental deposits, a period of free rent and access to fast broadband to allow more flexible working. Earlier this year, we relaunched our flexible working policies to enable a better work-life balance, and in February we rolled out an online doctor service that gives every employee free and quick access to doctor consultations at anytime and anywhere.
Communication is key and costs nothing but time – during 2018, we ran a large ‘back-to-basics on pension’ roadshow that aimed to bust the myth that pension is complicated and explain about the level of ‘free money’ employees receive, both from the Government in tax relief and from Hays in the form of matching contributions. The idea of pension was explained in a different way – if you are prepared to save for a holiday each year, why would you not save for what is potentially going to be the longest holiday of your life?
A new corporate pension
This finally brings me back to living longer. I heard Andrew Scott, co-author of The 100 Year Life, speak recently about what effect living longer would have on the world of work and pension. He said that in addition to financial savings, people will need to have three further things – Productivity, ie skills, education, learning and development to enable them to keep working; Vitality, ie physical and mental health and the maintenance of important relationships that contribute to how positive you feel; and Transformational skills, ie the ability to deal with change, which is needed to be able to adapt successfully as you move through life.
This is very interesting and is potentially the new ‘corporate pension’, with the ability for employers to influence how people age. It forced me to reassess my pillars of wellbeing and to view them through a different lens. Financial savings is covered under the Money pillar, Vitality is covered under the Health and Working Environment pillars, Productivity falls under the Learning and Development pillar, and Transformational under the Life and Learning and Development pillars.
It is always good to be challenged in thinking, and with change happening so fast, it is not possible to be complacent and stay the same. Having an engaged, productive, healthy and happy workforce is essential to any business success, and companies have to move with the times and move quickly – they need to recognise the modern challenges their employees face, and adapt before it is too late.
In the meantime, I have had another thought – that it is no good sitting and thinking about what working life was previously like in my day, because ‘in my day’ is actually now.
Rosemary Lemon is Group Head of Reward for the global professional recruiting company, Hays. She is a member of the Money and Pensions Service Steering Committee, charged with increasing the financial capability of working people across the UK, and is interested in how employee benefits need to evolve to meet new social and economic pressures on employees.
1 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ education-40493658
2 https://www.ons.gov.uk/ peoplepopulationandcommunity/ personalandhouseholdfinances/ incomeandwealth/bulletins/ householddisposableincomeandinequality/ yearending 2018
3 https://www.legalandgeneralgroup.com/ media/1074/d2b_infographic_2017.pdf
4 https://www.willistowerswatson.com/ en-GB/press/2018/10/money-worriesbiggest-cause-of-stress-for-millennialsin-the-uk
5 Scott A, Gratton L. The 100-year life. London: Bloomsbury; 2016.
6 https://www.internetworldstats.com/ emarketing.htm
8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBw T_09boxE&fs=1&hl=en%5FUS&rel=0