Willis Towers Watson finds few employees ready for war on freelance talent

Contingent Plans Required

With demand for emerging skills such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics growing exponentially, a survey by Willis Towers Watson finds few UK companies are fully prepared to modernise their approach to attract and retain the specialist skills increasingly supplied by the freelance sector.

Despite an increase in the large-scale use of freelance talent, the Modernising Total Rewards Global Survey found that seven out of ten (72 per cent) UK employers have no plans to change their talent value proposition for contingent workers. According to Willis Towers Watson, the changing nature of ‘jobs’ has made the legacy one-size-fits-all approach to leveraging talent obsolete and a new, customised strategy to benefits and rewards is needed to reflect the needs and risks of talent both inside and outside the organisation.

“The demand for specialised skills will continue to increase across industries and, as a result, top talent will have a wider set of career choices, putting pressure on employers,” said Benjamin Viney, director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson. “Rapid technological advancement is revolutionising the workforce and in this environment it is essential that employers modernise their reward practices to attract, engage and retain hard-to-find talent.”

Total rewards programmes include such key drivers of employee attraction, retention and engagement, as compensation, health and wellbeing programmes, retirement and financial benefits, flexible work programmes, and learning, development and career opportunities.

The survey does show that in some of these areas, employers are being more proactive in modernising their total rewards programmes. These changes include:

  • Greater flexibility: Almost seven in ten employers (67 per cent) are considering providing more flexibility (e.g. in benefits, working arrangements, career options) this year or within three years. Twenty-seven percent have already done so.
  • Technology: Sixty-three percent of employers expect to improve technology to administer benefits this year or within three years. Nineteen percent have already done so.
  • Transparency: Despite increasing disclosure requirements, such as gender pay gap reporting which have increased concerns about how pay decisions are made, just one in ten (10 per cent) have so far taken steps to improve pay transparency. However, seven in ten (69 per cent) are considering doing so either this year or within three years.
  • Personalised communication: Seven in ten employers (70 per cent) expect to improve their personalised communication this year or within three years.

The move to modernise total rewards programmes comes at a time when employers continue to have difficulty attracting and retaining employees. According to the survey, four out of ten respondents are having problems hiring employees with critical skills, while 32 per cent reported problems attracting high-potential employees. Employers also say they are having difficulty retaining critical-skill employees (22 per cent) and high-potential employees (33 per cent).

Benjamin Viney said: “Given the ongoing changes taking place in today’s work environment, employers are under mounting pressure to rethink their approach to total rewards and move beyond the status quo. Only one in 9 organisations understand what current employees and available talent want. We recommend employers carefully evaluate their overall strategy, gain a better understanding of what employees and prospects value, and ensure they have the right technology and tools to deliver a consumer-grade experience to their employees.”

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