Total Reward Strategies and Employee Value Propositions

Total Reward Strategies and Employee Value Propositions: Please remind me…why do we need them and how do we deliver them?

By Dr Duncan Brown
5 December 2022

While I was privileged to be invited to work with UCEA colleagues to draft the new Total Reward and Employee Value Proposition in a ‘perma-crisis’ era - A UCEA guide and toolkit, I have had to confess to some mixed feelings on this topic. 

Our employees and all of us are, after all, facing up to the worst cost-of-living squeeze we have experienced in our lifetimes. The  double digit price increases in energy, food and just about everything else that we buy are driving the largest fall in our real earnings and living standards that is evident in the ONS’s monthly earnings datasets since records of them began in the 1970s, along with an unprecedented growth in in-work- poverty

Is this really the right time to be ‘preaching’ about what a wonderful total reward package our institutions offer. Do higher education staff really feel ‘totally rewarded’ and valued at the moment?!

Well yes, actually it is. And the need to ensure our employees and colleagues fully realise the potential value of that package, and that it continues to attract, retain and engage into UK higher education the diverse people and talents we need to continue to succeed on an increasingly competitive global stage, has never been greater.

But let me explain just why this is so important and, in the process, I will briefly outline what the new guide and toolkit provides.

The ‘What’

Armstrong and Brown define the ‘what’ of total rewards in the first part of the guide as: designing and communicating ‘all aspects of the reward package as a strategic and coherent whole…linking the financial and non-financial aspects’. The CIPD explains how the related  more externally-directed concept of ‘The EVP describes what an organisation stands for, requires and offers as an employer’ and how ‘organisations differentiate themselves, enabling them to recruit, retain and engage.’ 

So why are these concepts important? Participants at the last pre-Covid in-person UCEA workshop on total reward, identified a range of potential benefits including recruitment, retention and alignment with organisational values.

In sum, the intent is to integrate and maximise the impact of all of the tangible and intangible rewards and benefits. So why should we spend time and resources doing this?

The ‘Why’

The second part of the guide summarises a whole wadge of research findings on ‘the why’ of total reward and EVPs, to help convince even the most sceptical that these claimed benefits can be and are being realised in practice. 

There are hundreds of global studies showing the performance gains, from higher sales and employee engagement levels in McDonalds stores to improved staff advocacy and lower mortality rates in acute hospitals revealed in an Aston University study. 

Although some Heads of Institution might claim that their institution’s identity and brand alone is enough to attract (academic) staff, UCEA’s Deputy Chief Executive Roshan Israni says a changed landscape has necessitated a need to better explain and communicate the many benefits of working in HE. 

Roshan refers to three important factors driving this requirement. First, evidence that ‘the great resignation’ is affecting many of us, with major recruitment and retention challenges evident across the economy, sector and almost all occupations.  

Second, is the limited success that many of our institutions have had in the past in successfully communicating what is by UK standards a comparatively valuable reward package to their staff and potential recruits. 

Third is the extent to which the crises of the past two years have radically shifted the experience of employment and employee expectations about it, driving a significant shift in the contents of total reward packages and emphasis in our EVPs. 

UCEA’s own Benefits of Working in HE report highlights the attractiveness and expanding range of benefits, both tangible and intangible, offered in the sector and how total reward practices are adapting to the shocks and shifts that have occurred over the past couple of years. UCEA’s related guidance on the Employee Experience in HE is equally important and sits alongside this guide on total reward and the EVP.

The ‘How’

The guide majors in its largest section on addressing the ‘how’ of EVPs and total reward, with a comprehensive toolkit of approaches. 

This is important, given that research evidence suggests that practical delivery is the major issue in the wider, more successful adoption of both approaches. 

So how do you deliver the potential organisation and employee benefits of these two related concepts into practice?

The new guide provides a four-phased process of diagnosis, direction-setting, design and delivery to support the translation of total reward strategy and EVP together successfully into practice along with a selection of tools and methods. 

Helping you to deliver your total reward and EVPs

Developing and delivering an EVP and total reward strategy successfully, in a higher education institution or any other large employer, is not easy or straightforward. There are no universal answers nor easy ‘solutions’.

But the complexity also explains the importance of a total reward approach and an integrated, clearly communicated and delivered EVP in engaging the diversity of the modern HE workforce, helping to explain why UCEA has had such a strong demand for guidance in this area. 

Reinforced by employers’ experiences over the recent challenging years: investing more effectively in your employee rewards, in a deliberate, open, integrated and strategic fashion, has many gains. 

The best employers and HR and reward leaders are asking and addressing the key questions on EVP and total reward alignment and are engaging all of their stakeholders in answering them to help attract and develop engaged and high performing staff from diverse backgrounds and to help increase productivity. Are you?