Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Changing times call for a different philosophy

Major economic challenges and shifts in workplaces usually go hand in hand. As we entered the economic downturn a few years ago, most of us were aware that whatever state we were in when we eventually emerged from tough times, the world of work would look very different.

Several years on, we are beginning to see how those changes might play out. Some companies are bringing offshore contracts back home (or at least to nearby countries). This is driven partly by wage inflation in countries such as China, partly by the need to shorten supply chains to adapt to customer feedback more quickly and, in some cases, because technological advances make it cheaper and easier to make some products on home soil. There is also evidence that a few global banks are retracting their overseas tentacles because of politics, regulation and deleveraging.

In other industries, such as Employee Benefits’ publishing sector, fundamental shifts mean the business model has had to be reinvented to survive. In the case of media, the swing from print to web-based publishing is unstoppable (although, given our readers’ resistance to reading this magazine solely online suggests the journal will be dropping through your letterbox well into the foreseeable future).

Coupled with these global industrial shifts is a change in working practices, mostly increased flexibility in working times and locations (in the office, at home or in a local coffee house). Such fundamental changes to the world of work means HR and benefits managers need to be aware that, sooner or later, they will need to re-examine the strategies used within their organisation.

According to the Employee Benefits/Alexander Forbes benefits research 2012, the biggest challenges facing those managing benefits is to “improve the perceived value of the benefits package” (by 61%) and to “control costs across the organisation” (by 53%).

These have been top challenges for a number of years, so in all probability costs have been squeezed to within an inch of benefits’ lives. So it is time for a new strategy; one that matches the new world order in your industry or sector. Our cover story explores some of the new ways of working to have come into play in recent years, and the benefit strategies that can support these changes. Our list is not comprehensive, and no doubt other innovative strategies will emerge, so we would be interested to hear what else our readers are doing with benefits to meet the demands of a changed work of world.

Debi O’Donovan, Editor

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