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How COVID-19 Has Affected Workforce Strategies

May 2, 2020

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

A new AON survey, Adjusting Total Rewards Programs and Workforce Strategies in Response to COVID-19, shows how companies around the world are adjusting workforce strategies and supporting employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey found that few firms have executed cost-saving measures in these areas so far. 76% of firms have yet to make any changes to health and welfare plans, and 86% of firms have yet to make changes to retirement plans.

“We know companies have a strong desire to help their people as much as possible; yet, many firms also face very difficult economic conditions,” said Alex Cwirko-Godycki, chief strategy officer for the rewards practice at Aon. “The actions cited throughout our study reflect this dichotomy; efforts to manage costs are accelerating, and at the same time, companies are also taking significant steps to support employees working in new or more difficult environments.”

Of actions that employers have taken, 17% have encouraged employees to take previously accrued paid time off, 7% have encouraged employees to take unpaid leave, 4% have cancelled some or all wellness rewards, and 2% have reduced some or all paid leave benefits, where allowed by law. Only 5% of companies have suspended employer matches, profit-sharing, or other non-elective employer contributions for defined contribution retirement plans.

Supporting Employees

Companies have moved quickly to supplement support programs and leave benefits for employees.  In North America, 70% of companies are providing additional scheduling flexibility to employees with children; 42% are providing temporary increases in sick leave entitlements (e.g., special “pandemic leaves”); 38% are allowing employees to use sick leave for COVID-19 related quarantines (in addition to what is required by law); and 26% are allowing employees to use sick leave to care for children when they are off from school (in addition to what is required by law).


The survey found that 88% have increased their general communications frequency due to COVID-19. Specifically:

  • 93% have been sending updates related to actions taken on health, safety, and business continuity

  • 74% have been sending special updates on or re-sharing information on wellbeing resources

  • 65% have been spending special updates or re-sharing information on health benefits

  • 55% have been sending special updates on or re-sharing information on time-off and leave policies

  • 25% have been sending special updates on or re-sharing information on compensation and total rewards

Looking Ahead

When asked how the experience of responding to COVID-19 might change future workforce strategies, 44% of companies in North America expect their digital transformation agendas to accelerate following their initial response to COVID-19. 83% of companies anticipate their exploration of different working models, such as, expanded working from home and increased flexible hours approaches, will accelerate as well.

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