What’s happening in compensation and benefits this year?

As every year, Informa hosted the 2-day-long Compensation and Benefits Forum in Dubai last week. For us, it was an opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues, meet new friends and share the latest compensation and benefits trends with you!

The employer trends report

Prior to the actual event, we supported Informa in creating their 2018 employer trends report. Participants reported being challenged by the fluctuating economic conditions across the region. As such, 20.36% of participating companies are planning to implement modest pay increases of up to 3.5%. In contrast, 6.04% of participants are proposing increases of 6.0% or higher in 2018.

The labour market is currently in favour of employers, yet, there’s always an opportunity for high performers. More than half of participating companies are experiencing an attrition rate of 5.0% or less while almost 1/5 of participants report over 10.0%. It was surprising to find out that over 11% of companies are unaware of their attrition rates.

The implementation of VAT (value added tax) has also kept rewards professional busy. For most companies, no special adjustments will be made for salaries or benefits. Employers are taking the view that VAT is part of life and the burden cannot be taken off employees’ shoulder. This comes as a mindset change. Historically, this region has provided various allowance like housing, transportation and schooling to help (expat) employees with the cost of living.

2018 challenges

2018 offers to be an exciting year. Conservative and innovative approaches need to balance business needs and employee expectations. Participants reported the following three areas as the most important ones on their agenda:

  1. Increased employee engagement
  2. Manage cost
  3. Retain employees

The challenges are interlinked and are no longer answered by HR Business Partners or HR Generalists alone. Rewards professionals are being asked to create solutions to complex HR topics.  Some of the attendees at the Compensation and Benefits Forum described their challenges as “thrilling”, “not sure how to manage everyone’s expectations” and “a big step towards where we should be”.

Automated analyses

AI is everywhere these days and HR can no longer hide from it. Yet, not every company is prepared or ready for the digital transformation. Mohammad Salman Hashim from Nielsen suggested taking a data-driven approach for your rewards spend. Before starting, look internally and take stock. Which reports are currently available and which ones of these do you utilise?

Hashim advised to review these reports critically. Many HR Generalists still struggle to interpret the data and need to become more comfortable dealing with numbers. Nonetheless, reports can be set up with insufficient segmentation which can obscure the story for HR Generalists.

A regular activity for rewards professionals is to simulate various scenarios. To advise any business leader, they need to be given a full overview of options and the long-term impact of each proposal. For Hashim, this area is where HR and rewards teams can contribute substantially to the business: Predicting the impact before taking any actions. Business leaders can be stopped making a decision based on gut feeling that may end in financial loss or reputational damage.

Short-term incentive (STI) schemes

Discussing the regional application of STI schemes, Dr. Sabeeh Ghugharia, Regional Corporate Human Resources Manager at Mediclinic, emphasised the need to include the patient (or customer) experience to the performance matrix. The traditional components like company sales and individual performance can no longer be the driving factors in the bonus equation.

Sachin Bajaj, Head of Performance & Rewards, NEMEA at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, took it even a step further. Instead of offering a convention STI, he proposed employees opting for up to 100% bonus. While this is more common for sales roles, it would be a radical move for support staff. Companies would need to improve setting realistic targets and enabling employees to be able to reach their goals when implementing such an approach.

For most attendees, this was an approach too far out of the box for them to warm up to. Nevertheless consensus in the forum was that every employee should be incentivised for the part they play in an organisation’s success. STI schemes may need to become a profit sharing schemes for roles where the direct impact may be harder to measure. With that, the forum recognised the importance of incentives to engage and also retain employees.

Sustainable rewards

Oluyomi Okunowo carried on with this thought and he sees STI schemes as a cost-effective way to manage change. As STI schemes only pay out when results have been achieved (i.e. self-funded), the STI design can thus become inspiring and targeted while optimising its spend.

All too often, it’s the individual who gets rewarded on their own merits. Their interactions with other team members may not be fully taken into consideration during the STI design. To optimise the STI spend, Okunowo suggested a renewed focus on team-based initiatives.

Consistency

Consistency is key in 2018. Companies are required to create more strategic approaches to their rewards and overall HR activities. While economic conditions are favourable for companies, this may change and employees will dictate the rules. Organisations are to build employee loyalty now, as Okunowo urged. “How will you get loyalty when 40% of Americans will be Gig employees by 2020?”

Are you set to tackle the 2018 challenges in your company? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can help you optimise your rewards programmes to engage and retain your employees while balancing your company’s budget.

Maximise a limit merit budget

For many organisations in this region, the 2018 merit rounds will bring new challenges. As in other parts of the world, merit budgets are limited while employees are experiencing a rise in cost of living. Since 1 January 2018, VAT has been added to most areas of our life. Employees have already asked last year how companies will compensate them for these increases?

Most companies still wait and see what other companies are doing and are planning to provide a merit increase only. Any cost of living increases may follow at a later stage. With budgets already set for many organisation, companies can still be creative and maximise a limited merit budget by using one or a mixture of the following course of action:

  1. Peanut butter approach
  2. Differentiation by performance
  3. Targeted increases
  4. Lump sum awards

The peanut butter approach

The peanut butter style provides the same percentage increase to every employee. It is generally taken by organisations wanting to give an equal increase to cover the employees’ cost of living, especially since the implementation of VAT. While managers are not involved in the process and no additional calibration and approval meetings, the process is reduced substantially. HR and Payroll can implement the new salaries almost instantly, freeing up resources for other projects. However, such increases become a mere cost of living adjustment rather than a merit increase.

Differentiation by performance

Companies may want to support their performance-driven culture by linking it to financial rewards. These organisations provide different increases for the different performance ratings. In general, a low performing employee would receive no increase or only a minimal one. In contrast, the efforts, achievements and behaviours of high or top performers are recognised with merit increases equivalent to 2x or 3x of the budget.

An effective performance management system is a pre-requisite for any pay-for-performance programme. While some companies set a fixed increase for each performance rating, the trend is to enable managers to determine the increase from a range. In the latter case, a realistic timeframe needs to be set for managers to provide their recommendations and calibration before the increases can be communicated to employees and executed by Payroll.

Targeted increases

Similar to differentiated increases by performance, organisations can provide targeted increases for certain employee groups. This could be for critical roles which create value in, for example, improved quality, financial performance or customer satisfaction. They could also be of a strategic impact where roles are linked to the organisation’s capability to maintain and strengthen its position. Other employee groups could include high performances, high potentials, individuals on the succession plan, hard to replace or employees with hot skills or those low in the salary range.

Knowing which roles, skills or individuals should be focused on, HR and management can identify an appropriate merit increase. For simplicity, all increases to the identified groups can be of the same amount (peanut butter approach), yet, such increases may not lead to the desired motivation boost amongst the workforce. Should the company wish to differentiate between these groups, the proposed merit increase can be distinguished based on certain factors, like the contributions made to the organisation and the implications and risks of leaving. This process, however, can easily be over-engineered, leaving to a lengthy planning and implementation period which, at times of a limited merit budget, may be counterproductive.

Lump sum awards

As merit increases not only increase the current salary, they also add costs to other salary-linked elements like bonus, end of service benefits, pension or social security contributions. For companies to control the rising long-term cost implications, lump sum amounts can be paid.

Even here, companies have options around the payout: For all employees or just specific employee groups. A flat amount or varying amounts based on a points system (e.g. for performance or criticality of the role or individual).

Each approach has pros and cons as explained above and HR teams need to their overall objective when identifying the appropriate one (or a blended one) for their business. Linking it to the company’s culture is as important as getting top leadership buy in before communicating the chosen way to management and consequently employees.

When facing financial challenges, companies win by communicating a transparent overview to their employees. It helps to manage employees’ expectations and reiterates the company’s philosophy for success. Line managers need to be supported by HR and be prepared to communicate potentially harder messages to employees not receiving any pay increase.

HR teams together with line managers should also look at non-financial rewards to recognise, motivate and retain while being challenged by a limited merit budget.

Do you want to ensure your limited merit budget achieves the desired outcomes? Are you uncertain about which approach is the right one for your company? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can help you maximise your merit budget motivating and engaging your employees.

Where’s your performance management heading to?

With only 3 months left in the year, companies are preparing to close the last quarter on a high note. Managers are also getting ready for the oh so dreaded year-end performance discussions with their employees. Or are they really?

Companies like Deloitte and Microsoft have set a new trend towards cutting-edge performance management. The traditional approach was rather static and focused on the past with managers looking at the employee’s performance during a mid-year and a year-end conversation. Business leaders were stuck in admin work and had to label their employees with a rating often made to fit a forced distribution curve. Companies found little alignment to their strategic objectives and their pay-for-performance philosophy.

This criticism has forced a shift from traditional performance management to cutting-edge performance management which sets to achieve:

  • Greater forward-looking and strategic alignment
  • Improved behaviours and skills without forced labelling
  • Increased motivation for and true differentiation of high performance
  • Objective and meaningful conversations with the employee.

Continuous and timely feedback
Employees, especially Millennials, require more feedback than that given during the traditional mid-year and year-end performance discussions. Sheila Heen acknowledges 3 types of feedback: Appreciation, coaching and evaluation.

Giving real-time feedback, managers can recognise employees on the spot or pinpoint a problem and guide the employee when resolving it. Employees can now also adjust their behaviours, leading to improvements and increased efficiencies.

Assessment of the potential to grow and develop
Managers now also evaluate the potential of an employee and identify which skills they’ll need to acquire to drive the company forward. Performance management becomes forward-looking and specific plans for formal/informal training, coaching and mentoring can be established for the employee as a result.

Minimised low-value adding admin work
Companies can utilise ERP systems to reduce the time required to collect feedback from other people or to document the performance review. Managers are freed up to prepare in depth for an individualised conversation and make the review discussion much more meaningful for the employee and them.

Transparent processes
Knowing which behaviours are valued by the company and lead to increased performance, the employee can also see a clear link between their performance and their rewards.

This link between pay and performance has also been maintained by 80% of companies with rating-less appraisals. Here, managers have been given more discretion in the distribution of their merit and bonus budgets.

Empowered managers
Top executives lead the adoption of the cutting-edge performance management, yet, front-line team leaders, supervisors and managers need to be trained and empowered to make it a successful transition. HR teams need to equip the business with the tools to evaluate performance, provide feedback and make fair pay decisions.

While cutting-edge performance management is a relatively new approach, initial studies show a positive impact on performance and rewards. Clear improvements have been found in the way top performers are rewarded and also in the differentiation of pay based on performance.

Are you looking to raise your performance management to the next level but aren’t sure how? Contact us and find out how we can create a programme fit for your company and culture.

Non-financial rewards

How to recognise your employees with little or no budget

Over the last few years, leaders have been working with reduced merit budgets and are challenged to reward high performing employees with less. How often have you heard managers complain they’re struggling to motivate and retain their employees?

HR teams have now a unique opportunity to innovate their recognition schemes and to align them to their total rewards strategy, talent management strategy and core company values. Continue reading