The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has so far been the ultimate litmus test for businesses. Aside from putting their resilience and agility to the most gruelling test there is, it’s also changed the kind of compensation and benefits (C&B) that employees demand for at the workplace. Aside from standard ones like parental and childcare leave, the global health crisis has highlighted the importance of other benefits, such as medical insurance, remote work and flexible work arrangements. 

As a business looking to rebound in the post-COVID world and remain competitive, it now takes more than an attractive salary package to stand out from the crowd and bring in the best talent. How then must companies rethink their C&B strategy? And for those looking to break into Southeast Asia for the first time, what is the C&B landscape like in this region? Has it changed in view of COVID-19?

To answer these questions, Page Executive held an exclusive webinar on 23 April to help the business and HR community navigate the changing outlook. Hosted by Tom Ho, Senior Consultant at BIPO, and Jon Goldstein, Regional Director at PageGroup, the webinar focused on Singapore’s highly competitive C&B landscape, giving attendees a taste of what they can expect in the city-state. 

The following are some of the fascinating points they touched on. 

A shifting landscape

In Singapore, it’s not just about the money. Singapore Business Review recently published a survey that compared the benefits Singaporean workers currently enjoyed, versus the benefits that they would most like to have — and there was definitely room for improvement for businesses based here. 

For example, only four benefits (insurance, medical benefits, dental benefits and individual performance bonus) out of 10 matched up with employees’ expectations. The rest, like 13th month annual wage supplements (AWS), long service awards, recreational activities and staff discounts, were not reflected in reality. “These are not just ‘nice-to-have’,” Goldstein explained. “Candidates now expect them.”

Goldstein added that, Millennial and Generation Z workers will soon become the dominant workers, even senior leaders, in the upcoming decade. The benefits that they expect, too, are dramatically different, even in Singapore. 

For example, Goldstein observed that many more male candidates are asking about paternity leave in Singapore, which wasn’t the case in decades past. Also, Millennials desire meaningful work and are devoted less to companies and more to themselves; Generation Z are more about change, stimulation and opportunities to grow. As such, in Singapore, some of the most game-changing benefits include higher-than-average annual leave, flexible work arrangement, company-paid services and activities, even free food, beverage and experiences. 

Goldstein added that a lot of tech startups, locally based or otherwise, are already offering many of these benefits in order to attract the very best talent. “We have some clients who pay for the medical bills of [their employees’] pets!” Goldstein shared. “It goes to show that people will do a lot to attract the data science candidates, the niche management candidates, or a developer and engineer that is hard to get.” In short, the value system has changed, and the benefits that appeal in the past carry less weight now than ever before. 

Meeting expectations 

In view of these changing demands, which areas of C&B are Singapore-based companies looking to review in the near future? BIPO conducted a C&B survey recently, and one of the questions asked companies if they have reviewed specific C&B benefits within the last three years, and if they had the intention to do so within the next 12 months. 

The responses were fascinating. For example, Ho shared that more than half of the companies surveyed have plans to review medical claim amounts and/or change vendors (57%). More than 60% of them even have plans to provide employees with online or mobile access to their benefits, thus affording them better control over what and how they want to claim. On the flip side, less than 10% of respondents have plans to review maximum coverage or increase the amount of co-insurance. These numbers reveal the priorities for Singapore-based companies, from a C&B perspective, within the coming year. 

With that said, none of the benefits shared during the webinar is mandatory, as Goldstein repeatedly alluded to. “You don’t have to do these things,” he said. “But it is important to know them. You have to understand what your competitors are doing. This will enable you to choose which of them you want to implement based on employee feedback. It also enables you to understand what other companies are doing, so that you can adjust, not only what you take in, but how you talk about the positive points of your business.” 

C&B makes a huge difference in today’s climate. In Southeast Asia, where the competition is especially high for talented professionals, companies must work doubly hard to attract the right candidates, as well as retain the ones that are already there. “Nowadays, candidates want to hear about [these benefits] when they are interviewing. It makes a huge difference as to whether they accept or decline offers. It makes a big difference to whether they stay and retain in the business.”