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How rewards and benefits shifted through the pandemic

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

COVID-19 changed the workforce in many ways. Most notable was the rise in remote and hybrid working, which has completely changed how businesses operate.

With this change comes new strategies, and rewards and benefits at a company underwent change just like everything else did. With people’s lives shifting and not as much time being spent in the office, organisations had to rethink what perks were appealing to employees.

“When everyone was back in the office [businesses said] we’ll give you a 10 per cent discount from the food court downstairs, and the gym across the road is going to give you an introductory month free,” said Ross McDonald, Perkbox Australia’s country manager.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that used to be location-centric. You had to be there to get the benefit, and that fell over very quickly with lockdowns and COVID-19.”

The pandemic changed the priorities of many workers. One major consideration through this time was wellbeing. A report from Headspace revealed that 74 per cent of young people reported worse mental health during COVID-19.

Mr McDonald continued: “The next step that COVID-19 brought in was a whole bunch of wellness benefits in terms of mental and physical wellness. So, we saw a huge uptake in making sure that people had access to mindfulness, to meditation, to exercise stuff to do at home, different ways to connect to make people feel better and feel more secure.”

“Many organisations also became very interested in EAP programs, employee assistance programs, which are really crucial, but they’re also a safety net. You have to be over the cliff before you can really use the EAP. The wellness stuff hopefully keeps you away from the cliff edge.”

With the pandemic behind us, wellbeing initiatives have taken a back seat to attraction, retention, and engagement. With just about everyone struggling to get skilled workers in the door, companies are having to adjust their rewards and benefits strategies to make this happen.

“What do we need to do to keep people as part of our workforce? And then the second order is what do we need to do to keep those people engaged? Because a lot of benefits can be transactional. So, we’re going to give you a bit of private health insurance coverage, or you can get your lunch for free, whatever it might be. They can become very transactional over time and almost expected,” he said.

Now, recognition is playing a bigger role as organisations realise that people want to be praised for the hard work they do.

“Where you actually get the power as an organisation is when you start looking at ways to recognise and reward the efforts that make a difference to people who go above and beyond,” Mr McDonald explained.

“It doesn’t have to be above and beyond. It can sometimes [be] the people who are doing exactly the right thing. And you want to make sure you catch them doing that and reinforce that behaviour.”

A major improvement in rewards and benefits through the pandemic is personalisation. Businesses realised that you can’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, and different needs have to be catered for.

Mr McDonald said this is now reflected in companies’ rewards and benefits strategies: “Everybody has different needs and is engaged at work for different purposes.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Ross McDonald, click below:



Benefits include any additional incentives that encourage working a little bit more to obtain outcomes, foster a feeling of teamwork, or increase satisfaction at work. Small incentives may have a big impact on motivation. The advantages build on financial rewards to promote your business as a desirable employer.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.