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Shaping a flexible Total Rewards experience

May 16, 2019 1:00:00 PM / by The HR Trove by Willis Towers Watson


From agile teams to the gig economy, flexibility underpins our new ways of working. In order for Total Rewards to support today’s evolving work ecosystem, programs must flex not only with changing business needs but also with the shifting expectations – especially regarding choice – of a diverse, multi-generational workforce.

Rethinking Total Rewards in this way will help unlock the full potential of employees and shape a better Total Rewards experience.

4 aspects of rewards to consider
To build flexibility into their reward portfolios, organizations must adopt a broad, holistic view of the possibilities and take advantage of the full spectrum of Total Rewards components.

There are four key areas to consider:

1. Pay. Organizations are starting to move away from rigid approaches to compensation and pay increases. They’re giving managers more leeway in making pay decisions. As a result, factors such as criticality of role, achievement of team goals and possession of skills critical to future success now often play a larger role in determining pay.

Additionally, many organizations are seeking to provide various recognition programs – both monetary (e.g., cash award, gift card) and non-monetary (e.g., peer-to-peer recognition, social recognition) – to allow managers and employees greater flexibility to acknowledge their colleagues contributions in real time.

Some companies are even considering introducing individual flexibility into their pay programs by allowing employees to have a degree of choice in the elements of their pay packages. For example, top performers may be willing to risk having a substantial portion of their pay take the form of a bonus while other employees may prefer to trade a bonus for base pay.

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2. Benefits. Our Global Benefits Attitude survey shows that employees — particularly younger ones — want more benefit choices. But less than half of employees believe their overall benefit packages offer sufficient choice and flexibility.

The right technology can help provide greater choice and flexibility in the benefits area. Online decision support tools such as plan comparison tools and recommendation engines enable employees to make benefit decisions tailored to their personal or family needs and preferences. These tools are also critical to providing a consumer-grade benefits experience that allows employees to “shop” for benefits in much the same way they would shop for consumer goods at any online retailer. Our research reveals that employees who use these tools appreciate their benefits more and are more engaged.

In addition, employers are expanding the spectrum of available benefits to provide employees with more choice and flexibility. One area of particular focus is voluntary benefits, which includes offerings such as student loan repayment programs, identity theft protection insurance and pet insurance. Findings from the Emerging Trends: Voluntary Benefits and Services Survey reveal that 80% of employers recognize voluntary benefits and services as an important component of their employee value proposition and Total Rewards strategy. And this figure is expected to rise to 95% in the next three years.

3. Wellbeing. Flexible work arrangements support employees’ emotional and social wellbeing, and are a key retention driver. But it’s important not to make assumptions about who values flexible work options or how these employees use their flexible time. Flexible work options are not just for young parents who have to care for their children. These options are valued by a range of workers from millennials who want to pursue charitable activities outside of work to employees who need to help older parents. Moreover, flexible work options enable workforce participation by a broad range of workers, thus fostering inclusion and diversity.

Some organizations are also experimenting with the idea of moving to a shorter work week in an effort to boost wellbeing. Such a shift provides employees with more flexible time to spend with their families and/or pursue volunteer or personal wellbeing activities such as training for a marathon. An often-cited example is that of Perpetual Guardian, a trust and estates company in New Zealand that tested a four-day work week and found that productivity improved as did work-life balance when working hours were reduced from 40 to 32.

According to our recent Modernizing Total Rewards Survey, leading organizations in Total Rewards are out in front on flexible work arrangements in comparison with the laggards — including in the areas of flexible work hours (67% versus 45%), working from remote locations (56% versus 30%) and working from home (51% versus 30%).

4. Careers. Career flexibility involves providing a broad range of opportunities and experiences instead of predefined career paths, enabling employees to grow and thrive. Many employees in today’s multigenerational workforce want flexibility about when and how quickly they progress in their careers. Meaningful career enablement requires a focus on opportunities to enhance skills and gain new experiences such as special assignments within or outside the organization.

Additionally, employees are staying in the workforce longer and are looking for flexibility in how they pursue their careers. Sixty-nine percent of employees wish that employers would make working past conventional retirement easier.

For example, employers might allow older workers to shift from management positions to working as individual contributors. Other possibilities may include offering shorter work weeks or part-time or part-year employment. It’s important for such changes not to be viewed as a step backward, and that these opportunities be communicated in a transparent way and integrated in an organization’s career framework.

3 key actions

As you look to provide greater flexibility and choice in Total Rewards, focus on the following:

  1. Develop a flexible but fact-based mindset. Don’t make assumptions about employee preferences – whether in their career paths or in how/where they work. A range of insight tools such as pulse surveys combined with robust analytics can help you better understand the preferences of today’s diverse workforce, and make fact-based decisions about Total Rewards options.
  2. Use technology to boost flexibility. Technology supports flexibility and choice in Total Rewards across many dimensions: from the workforce collaboration software enabling employees to work remotely to decision support tools allowing employees to make the right benefit choices to the intranets, portals, social media and mobile apps that help communicate benefit choices and flexible work options.
  3. Promote the right culture. Leaders and managers must promote a culture that values flexibility, empowers employees and trusts them to do the right thing whether this involves pursuing a lateral career path, opting for a voluntary benefit or working on a flexible schedule.


Reimaging the Total Rewards experience through the lens of flexibility and choice will help nurture talent, helping both employees and the organization to realize their collective ambitions.


This blog was originally published on the Willis Towers Watson Wire, March 29, 2019.


Blog Contributors

Carole_HathawayCarole Hathaway is a managing director and global practice leader for Rewards. She is based in London and has significant experience working with global organizations helping them develop and deliver their approach to total rewards. 






Erin_KimErin Kim is a Senior Director in Willis Towers Watson’s Talent and Rewards line of business. She specializes in total rewards strategy development and rewards program design for global organizations.





Topics: compensation, human resources, benefits enrollment, total rewards

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