Looking ahead – The Employee Experience and Key HR Trends for 2022

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by Sarah McDonough, Talent & Reward Lead, Willis Towers Watson (Ireland)

As communities, Governments, economies and societies across the globe continue to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for organisations to look to the future, plan for opportunities and indeed potential threats. For companies in Ireland and further afield, a key consideration will be employee experience (EX). An area of significant expertise for Willis Towers Watson, when we consider the impact of the pandemic and broader concepts of the future of work, EX will underpin the success of organisations across all sectors. Here we look at several trends and considerations that businesses need to be aware of.

At Willis Towers Watson we know that EX sits at the heart of delivering a great customer experience and outstanding business results. Over the past twelve months EX has been under great stress and nearly all employers who took part in our annual Employee Experience Survey in 2021 globally said that enhancing their EX will be a priority over the next three years. This is a significant increase from only 52% who considered it a priority 3 years ago. Looking ahead, it is clear there is still a lot of change on the horizon and there are several areas that companies in Ireland need to consider that will have a direct impact on EX.

  1. Adjusting to remote working:

A key consideration for companies in Ireland will be how remote working impacts how employees are rewarded and companies in Ireland have already begun to look at remote reward policies, such as financial help for ‘remote working’ needs. For example, our 2021 Salary Budget Planning reported that 75% have provided expenses for home office or computer equipment however, only 11% of organisations in Ireland reported that they have made changes to their Total Rewards programs to address remote working. For those that have made changes, just 20% implemented permanent or temporary base pay adjustments. The challenge for businesses in Ireland now is to rethink how work is designed and rewarded so they can improve performance, control costs and risks, and fundamentally enhance EX.

  1. The future of diverse and inclusive benefits:

Implementing diverse and inclusive benefits for employees is another important consideration. We are working with companies to advise on such benefits and our research has found that 88% of companies in Ireland reported having some form of health care benefits and 95% stated that they have some form of risk programs for employees. Although organisations are introducing new benefits to attract and retain employees, only 31% of organisations in Ireland said that they will conduct a benefits review in light of remote working. It is clear that Irish companies need to make a shift to embrace new trends and as well as advising on appropriate benefits, we also work with clients to determine whether they are making EX a top priority – a focus that can be lost day-to-day so ensuring clarity is crucial.

  1. Addressing gender pay gaps:

There will also be external developments for companies to consider in the near future with regard to EX. In Ireland, a notable priority will be the requirements around gender pay gap (GPG) reporting, with the recently passed Gender Pay Gap Information Act, 2021 due to come into force in 2022. Aside from the mandatory reporting requirements, a positive approach to gender pay levels and associated issues is very important for EX. We are seeing that pay management and good governance need to be a priority for businesses, from a performance, cultural and reputational perspective.

  1. A shift to skills:

Looking forward, another key consideration for businesses will be the need to focus on skills when contemplating talent attraction and retention. One of the key foundations in a career framework is the establishment of a skills architecture that will enable organisations to deploy talent across the business in a more agile and efficient manner. Companies in Ireland should consider implementing a skills architecture to drive a superior employee experience and to remain competitive in the talent market. Skills are the new currency as they enable companies to compete and grow at a local, national and indeed global level. While there is a clear opportunity, the globalised skills marketplace is competitive, and organisations are significantly more likely to have difficulties with attraction and retention of talent. Reasons for this differ, for example some employees are postponing a return to work while dealing with childcare/eldercare responsibilities or they may have pandemic related fears. Overall, it is important that companies in Ireland consider the skills that they need to strengthen their workforce and not just capacity, adding diversity of thought and perspective that will enable growth.

  1. Salary and budget planning:

Finally, when we look at EX within the context of emerging trends and changes, it is important for business to consider their salary budget planning. From an EX-perspective, our research shows an encouraging uptake in the salary projections for 2022 in Western Europe across most markets. Many businesses that have awarded high salary increases are wishing to acknowledge and reward the resilience their employees have demonstrated throughout the pandemic. In 2021 there was a 2.5% median increase in the actual salary budget in Ireland and there is a 2.9% increase forecast for 2022. Employees have been through a lot and many employers recognise this and also the skills and talent they represent, so working with clients to ensure a comprehensive salary budget planning process is an important aspect of our work.

Overall, embracing the trends considered is an opportunity to drive meaningful changes that ensures companies are ready to adapt going forward. From our experience at Willis Towers Watson, employers who act now in a strategic manner to incorporate these considerations into new ways of working and prioritise EX will improve their overall business performance.

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Sarah McDonough
Sarah McDonough
Talent & Reward Lead, Willis Towers Watson (Ireland)