Rising Benefit Costs and Meeting Multi-Generational Needs are Top Challenges Facing Asia Pacific Employers 

November 5, 20194:17 pm
Generic placeholder image

Faced with rising costs and continuing struggles to engage employees with their benefit programmes, employers in Asia Pacific, including Singapore, are working towards transforming their overall corporate benefit strategy to better meet employee needs, according to the latest 2019/2020 Benefit Trends Survey by Willis Towers Watson. The study found employers are looking to broaden their benefit strategies, encompassing employee wellbeing and enhancing work policies to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

In Singapore, the survey found the primary benefit strategy challenges employers expect to face over the next three years are rising benefit costs (73 percent) and the differing wants and needs of a multi-generational workforce (66 percent). Just under half (46 percent) of the respondents cited lack of employee engagement with their benefit programmes as a primary challenge.

“With a dramatic increase in the number of people aged over 60 years old remaining in employment, today’s workforce comprises of up to five generations – from baby boomers through to the youngest, Gen Z. Each generation has differing requirements and expectations, as well as how they like to receive or consume benefits. This calls for a flexible approach to benefit strategies that reflects the needs of all employees, maximises inclusivity and engagement, while ensuring the employee population feels valued,” says Cedric Luah, Managing Director, Head of Health & Benefits for Asia and Australasia, Willis Towers Watson.

“While controlling costs remains their top challenge, employers are increasingly focused on a broader benefit strategy that goes beyond their core health and retirement offerings. In addition to the traditional emphasis on plan design and cost management, companies are now looking for ways to better connect with employees to meet the benefit needs of a diverse workforce and get the most value for their benefit spend.”

According to the survey, employers in Singapore are focusing across a broad range of benefits. When asked about their highest priorities, two-thirds cited aligning benefit provisions with employee wants and needs, followed by incorporating employee wellbeing into their benefit strategy. More than half of the employers are planning to enhance their work policies and incorporate inclusion & diversity into their benefit programmes.

Figure 1: Top priorities by employers in Singapore for benefits portfolio

Align benefits provisions with market norms and employee wants and needs 69%
Incorporate wellbeing into overall benefit strategy 62%
Enhance work policies 57%
Incorporate inclusion & diversity into benefits programmes design 56%

See also: HR Study: The Evolution of Employees Benefit

The increasing importance of wellbeing

Understanding the workforce is crucial to modernising an organisation’s benefit strategy. Increasingly, employers are putting a greater priority on wellbeing. Employers now consider wellbeing as a broader concept, comprising four components – physical, emotional, financial and social. These collectively have a direct impact on engagement and productivity of employees.

According to the survey, employers in Singapore are now expanding their focus to address emotional, financial and social wellbeing, other than the physical wellbeing. These include: identifying and managing behavioural health, stress and issues to maintain stability of mind and body of employees across the workforce; identifying and implementing solutions to improve the financial health of the workforce; and identifying and implementing ways to promote a sense of involvement around health and financial issues. Two in five employers are also looking to add or enhance chronic disease management and mental health programmes in their organisations.

“Younger generations generally respond more to wellbeing and lifestyle benefits such as gym memberships and flexible work arrangements. On the other hand, older employees may be more concerned about stress and resilience management programmes, and costs of healthcare especially with Singaporeans staying longer in the workforce,” comments Audrey Tan, Head of Health & Benefits for Singapore, Willis Towers Watson.

A flexible benefit approach that is relevant across a variety of employee groups

The rising use of technology has also not only change the nature of work, it has changed the way work is performed. Today, 25 percent of organisations say automation and digitalisation enables or requires them to use non-employee talent, such as contract employees, freelancers or temporary workers. However, this number jumps to 57 percent over the next three years. This means that employers will have a richer talent pool to choose from and the ability to extend their workforce beyond the physical location of their organisations. Consequently, it creates challenges for employers in terms of ensuring that these workers are engaged and feel that the employee value proposition is just as relevant to them as it is to full-time employees who sit in the office.

“All these factors taken together clearly presents a challenge for employers when modernising their benefits. They need to create a portfolio of benefits that is relevant across a variety of employee groups and ages; flexible and yet strong enough to be a significant attraction and retention factor for employees. Highly effective organisation should incorporate a more holistic communication strategy as part of their benefits review. This will ensure that the value of benefits is being brought across more effectively to employees,” adds Audrey.

Read also: Future Trends Company Should Anticipate: Modernising Benefits