Article

We’re already a quarter in, so what should the Middle East companies pay attention to in their benefit themes for the rest of 2018?

June 4, 2018
| United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait +5 more
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan

Offering the best possible benefits to your employees is key when it comes to attracting and retaining the industry’s top talent, but how can your company do this while keeping expenditure under control?

As the first quarter of 2018 ends, we take a look at the emerging trends that are helping multinational businesses drive efficiencies while prioritising their employees’ best interests.

A broad outlook

The Willis Towers Watson 2018 Current and Emerging Global Benefit Themes pulse survey shows that multinationals believe employee benefits are well worth investing in, with 40% of respondents anticipating that the range of benefits they offer will be widening in the near future.

While cost and financial risk management remain high on the list of priorities for companies’ global and regional headquarters, there’s increasing emphasis on other factors including HR simplification, modernisation of compensation and benefits packages, employee wellbeing and productivity, technology improvements and greater global governance.

A high proportion of respondents rated all these factors as major areas of focus for the next three years – a huge increase compared with the previous five years, when the emphasis was squarely on managing costs and risks.

In order to keep up with the competition when it comes to employee benefits, it will become increasingly important for your company’s benefits managers to take a similarly broad view.

Establishment of a global strategy

It’s noteworthy that 70% of respondents indicated that headquarters’ involvement in benefits management would be increasing, with 35% saying they expected their company would soon establish a global strategy or policy for employee benefits, pensions and wellbeing.

Respondents are feeling the pressure to do more with less, while also spending more time on strategic and emerging priorities. This is particularly relevant here in the Middle East, where reduced oil revenue in combination with a shifting regulatory environment is ramping up pressure on businesses.

On average, they told us they were spending just 30% of their time on business-as-usual activities and 70% on projects addressing topics such as business intelligence.

Implementation of efficiency drivers

Our survey revealed that employee benefits teams are considering the costs associated with the benefits they provide, what drives those costs, and what they can do to control them.

Businesses are also considering what data they need in order to achieve the right level of control over employee benefits, as well as looking for ways to leverage their scale to improve the efficiency of benefits provision across the company or group.

Added to that, there’s a move towards simplifying HR processes and software programmes in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Modernising benefits packages

Companies told us that they are increasing their focus on modernising the employee benefits packages they offer – a move from seventh place in the priority list over the past five years to fourth for the following three years.

This may involve shifting towards a total rewards system, including a potential combination of financial incentives, health and wellbeing benefits, flexible working, recognition and awards programmes, childcare facilities and career development initiatives.

Increasingly, companies are introducing additional voluntary benefits such as student loan repayment plans, financial planning services, childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work schemes, ID theft protection or even pet insurance in order to better target the specific needs of individuals in their workforce.

And meanwhile, consumer-grade technology is helping employees learn more about the benefits available to them, access services and monitor their use of rewards. This improves employee understanding of the value of their rewards and enriches their overall experience.

Employee wellbeing and engagement

Organisations are also focusing on identifying programmes that best engage employees, help differentiate them from other employers and generally improve staff productivity.

In particular, there’s a shift in emphasis towards improving employees’ wellbeing. While this moved up just one place in the rankings, the percentage of respondents who rated it as a major factor increased markedly, from 9% to 38%.

In the UAE, employee wellness is certainly a trend to watch, as companies step up their efforts to counteract rising levels of non-communicable diseases associated with inactivity and poor dietary habits. Besides traditional health and dental insurance, initiatives may include gym membership discounts, health and nutrition advice, help with smoking cessation and stress-management programmes.

The Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey suggested that employees who are both in good health and financially secure are 70% more engaged than those with health and money concerns. The focus on inclusion and diversity showed a similar increase. While just 8% said it was a major factor over the past five years, 32% are planning to make it so over the next three years. 

The outlook for employee benefits

Global businesses are continuing to improve the benefits they offer employees in a bid to remain competitive in the employment market, while protecting their bottom line. These two goals are by no means mutually exclusive. Centralising planning and provision along with smart use of technology and other efficiency drives should help you keep spending to a minimum while putting your employees’ best interests front and centre.

Maximising your employee benefits offering provides a great opportunity to demonstrate your company’s values and boost your brand image as a caring employer, improving profitability while attracting exceptional talent.

About the author: Steve Clements, Director Global Services and Solutions Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA)

Steve Clements

Steve joined Willis Towers Watson in 2014 as a Director of the Health & Benefits business, responsible for brokering and consulting across the Middle East. With more than 25 years of experience in health and benefits, he specialises in medical plan design and management, and advises both multinational and local clients on employee benefits plans. Steve also heads Willis Towers Watson’s carrier relationship and proposition development across the Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA) region. Developing a data-driven consultative brokering proposition and the region’s first full flexible benefits programme are at the core of his work, as well as establishing a centre of excellence for employee benefits consulting. Steve travels the globe as a guest speaker on employee benefits.