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The immediate shock of COVID-19 presents critical people issues for organisations to address in order to plan for a sustainable recovery

For organisations to rebound after the crisis, more needs to be done to balance short-term cost pressures with a commitment to longer-term employee wellbeing, finds survey.

Executive Compensation|Future of Work|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

June 4, 2020

LONDON, 4 June 2020 – Workforce productivity measures effectively implemented by organisations to minimise the immediate disruption of COVID-19 are not being matched with a similar commitment to prevent the longer-term risk of failing to support employee wellbeing during this period of extreme uncertainty, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson.

The survey looked at the response of employers in Great Britain and Western Europe to the pandemic, identifying a number of areas where employee support could be improved:

  • Whilst most companies have undertaken extensive communications around Covid-19 and working arrangements, fewer than half (44%) of employers have increased communication about benefits, despite the potentially greater need from employees to understand and make use of the range of benefits offered at this time. 
  • Only three in ten employers have increased communication to employees about pay (29%).
  • Less than one in five employers are actively listening to the needs and concerns of employees, such as via virtual focus groups (19%) or surveys (15%) in response to COVID-19.

The survey also highlights potential medium- to longer-term implications for the financial security of employees. According to the survey, most organisations have focused on cost control, rather than cost cutting, with almost one in five reducing merit increases or freezing salaries. The initial response of organisations has typically been to freeze (50%), reduce (47%) or delay (55%) hiring. 

Twice as many organisations at the time of the survey said that they were only planning or considering layoffs (25%) compared to those that had already taken action (12%). Since late May, the unemployment toll caused by COVID-19 layoffs has accelerated sharply, with the air travel and aerospace industries being two of the worst affected sectors.

Hazel Rees, GB Leader, Rewards Line of Business at Willis Towers Watson, said: “As this crisis continues to evolve, two-way listening to employees will be critical in establishing how a business can effectively support employees over the longer term and help the organisation rebound. Employees are the backbone of any operation and ensuring the workforce has access to, and understands, the benefits available during these unprecedented times will help maintain loyalty and stand companies in good stead when they emerge from this crisis.”

As companies adjust to functioning in pandemic conditions, analysis by Willis Towers Watson indicates the health, resilience and wellbeing of the workforce will prove increasingly critical to the long-term sustainability of operations beyond the crisis.

“It is a chaotic time for businesses as they grapple with the new normal,” said Rees. “Whilst it may be tempting for businesses to strip back and focus on core functions needed to stay afloat, companies still need to think about restoring stability and the need to prioritise the workforce and their needs. The risks to – and benefits of – employee and company wellbeing are highly aligned.”

In a separate survey, Willis Towers Watson observed that only 43% of employees said that their colleagues were coping well with stress experienced in response to COVID-19.

Ensuring support extends beyond keeping the cogs turning will be critical to building and sustaining workforce resilience and sending the message that employees matter.”

Hazel Rees,
GB Leader, Rewards Line of Business at Willis Towers Watson

“Many employees are dealing with higher levels of anxiety and stress, linked primarily to work, health and social concerns, making this crisis a defining leadership moment,” said Rees. “With more cost cutting expected in the future, employers will be remembered for how they react and treat their workers in this pandemic. Ensuring support extends beyond keeping the cogs turning will be critical to building and sustaining workforce resilience and sending the message that employees matter.”



About the Survey

A total of 996 employers based in Great Britain and Western Europe, 472 from the UK, took part in the 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Survey, which was conducted during April 2020. The full survey results can be found here.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving in more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimise benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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