“For employees to feel truly supported, benefits need to be tailored and linked to employee wellbeing”


The role of an employer’s Rewards Director has been transformed since the global pandemic and today has a much greater focus on employee wellbeing.

“There is now widespread recognition that employee wellbeing is a critical strategic priority going forward, not just for HR departments, but for board-level leaders,” says a Benefex backed study called “The New Reward Director”, published in July.

Also according to this report, employees are looking more closely at their benefits packages, wanting more benefits which directly relate to their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their loved ones. This has led to wellbeing jumping to the top of Reward Leaders’ priority lists, above other factors like recognition.

Aligning benefits and wellbeing

As a result, some progressive companies are directly aligning the wellbeing function and the benefits function. For instance, IRIS  Software Group, winner of our ‘Best Integration of DEI’ Make A Difference Award, has four pillars of wellbeing which now match the rewards in its benefits portal; MyHealth, MyMoney, MyWorld, MyPlace.

This move has been spearheaded by IRIS’s Senior HR Programme Advisor, Naomi Cosgrove, who has recently been handed the benefits remit (which used to sit in payroll) alongside her existing responsibilities for employee wellbeing.

Giving wellbeing ‘tangible solutions’

She explains that when she started working at IRIS 18 months ago her first focus was writing a wellbeing and inclusion strategy. “Whilst writing the strategy, I recognised the importance of underpinning our initiatives with tangible solutions,” she says. “So by matching our pillars of wellbeing with our benefits portal, our employees recognise that our benefits have a clear and meaningful purpose.”

As she says, traditionally the responsibility for benefits sits in payroll/HR and benefits are most commonly used as an attraction tool for new starters. However, Cosgrove sees much more potential for them to support the overarching wellbeing strategy too. 

Linking benefits to wellbeing campaigns

Since she has been responsible for benefits as well as wellbeing, she’s been able to much more easily and seamlessly promote and link IRIS’s benefits to its wellbeing initiatives and awareness campaigns. 

For instance, as part of its financial wellbeing initiatives, IRIS recently hosted a pension awareness session through its provider during Pension Awareness Week. It’s also hosted ‘lunch & learn’ sessions about its bike-to-work benefit scheme, which links in with promoting healthy lifestyles.

“For our employees to feel truly supported, our benefits need to be tailored and linked to employee wellbeing,” she says.

Caught up in fire fighting

But as Benefex’s study found, one of the biggest challenges for Reward Leaders is, in the aftermath of the pandemic, they are “still caught up in the fire fighting and reactive approaches”, often with limited budgets.

However, there is definitely a recognition and desire in the benefits industry to move away from this to a more strategic, holistic approach which underpins the wellbeing strategy.

We asked a few Rewards Leaders to tell us their main challenges when it comes to considering benefits in the context of employee wellbeing.

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This is what they said….

Perspective from a Global Benefits Director of a well known FMCG company:

“My biggest challenge?

Definitely how to deliver a meaningful global wellbeing strategy that has sufficient direction, yet is locally relevant with actionable activities . 

As a benefits professional also operating in the wellbeing space, the challenge is often that Senior leadership support is vital but it is difficult to demonstrate clear measurable financial ROI. 

True wellbeing is not just about leveraging benefit vendors more wisely, but a wider skillset is required to influence company culture, leveraging employee communications and joining all aspects of the company Employee Value Proposition together.”

Ketan Patel, Head of APAC and EMEA Benefits, Haleon:

“The most challenging part of employee wellbeing is making sure what employers offer is relevant. 

With a very diverse workforce it’s hard to nail down what the focus areas should be. 

Budgets aren’t sadly endless, so we want to be efficient in how we reach our employees in the most effective way and make a meaningful impact.”

Niall Silvestro, Team Leader, Reward & Analytics, Aberdeenshire Council:

“The biggest challenge I typically face is maximising the positive impact of our interventions. 

Speaking from the perspective of someone working within the public sector, our capacity is limited, so it’s really important that we’re tactical with our commitments. 

I find that a key factor in being able to do that is curiosity; we have to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to us to learn from best practice and explore the detail behind novel approaches that have made a real difference to organisations.”

Rashree Chhatrisha, Director of Reward, Pensions and Benefits

“My main challenges? Keeping colleagues engaged on financial wellbeing. 

The top causes of stress for employees, based on various studies, are financial or money matters and their challenges. Our employees face different situations depending on lifecycle/life stage;  financial stress can cause poor mental health, yet mental and physical ill health can also impact an employee’s ability to work and manage their finances, leading to poor financial wellbeing.

As to how my challenges differ from, say, wellbeing or HR leader…. Well, we review the whole benefits package with a holistic view. There are employees who may be more concerned about retirement planning, whereas others might be looking to buy a home, whilst some may be going through relationship difficulties that might also impact their financial wellbeing.

We are looking at the whole person, rather than just their mental health needs, is the philosophy behind holistic approaches to wellbeing; those who experience money worries are more prone to absence from work,  presenteeism, and heightened stress at work due to using work time to deal with or think about financial matters. The challenges of the pandemic have undoubtedly increased the prevalence of financial stress, and the fluctuation around the changing situations is unlikely to alleviate this stress.”

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