Thomsons Online Benefits today announces global research finding that over two thirds (69%) of companies believe they’ll experience a shortage of qualified workers within the next five years and that, consequently, recruitment activities have significantly changed for over a third (35%) of forward-thinking businesses. The survey of global businesses representing over three million employees finds that there is a new focus on hiring younger employees (24%), rehiring retired employees (23%) and hiring older workers (10%), as these become key to longer term talent recruitment and succession planning.

The report, entitled Global Employee Benefits Watch 2014, surveyed over 150 HR professionals working across EMEA, APAC and the USA, within 48 different industries. It found that balancing the needs of younger and older workers and employees with dependents is a critical challenge global companies face, as they struggle to reward and communicate effectively in a digital-friendly way with a diverse range of employees.

Global businesses are increasingly having to cope and administer benefits for up to four generations of workers without the appropriate systems in place. 38% of businesses, for example, cite difficulty in providing a flexible global benefits strategy for different demographics. Only 4% of respondents offer on-site facilities such as changing stations and on-site child care and 41% of businesses offer no benefits option for those employees taking care of an elderly parent. Only a third provided a retirement plan option and flexible working was only offered across all locations in one third (37%) of businesses polled.

“Many companies are being challenged by the different demands of an age-diverse workforce which is only set to increase,” says Chris Wakely, SVP of Enterprise at Thomsons Online Benefits. “There is a pressing need for international companies to create one unified system for their benefits and reward strategy, offering a consistent global programme yet tailored to employees locally dependent on legislative and cultural requirements, whether they are starting their first job or close to retirement. This is what will dramatically help to impact engagement, productivity and retention levels across all regions.”

58% of respondents feel that the biggest people challenge facing their HR team is in helping their organisation attract and retain talent. Outside of this, other pressing challenges for businesses globally include improving internal communications, aligning employee behaviours to business goals and their engagement with values, increasing retention and the need for greater succession planning.

“Improving internal communications has been identified as one of the biggest hurdles for global businesses to overcome. From our survey we found that communication is still often centred on the intranet, one to one sessions and direct mail even though the global workforce is increasingly characterised by anytime, anywhere information workers with several devices, consuming many apps and working from multiple locations,” said Wakely.

“We see an increasing need for international companies to implement solutions that will allow them to demonstrate the value of its total reward investment on an individual employee level. When coupled with the right technology and effective communication strategy, it will allow employers to effectively address the needs of staff across geographies, each carrying different expectations, legislation and working cultures,” concluded Wakely.

Less than 30% of respondents are using some type software to administer and communicate their benefits globally, while almost half (49%) has a different approach and a mix of manual processes and software in each country.

About the research

A wide range of global organisations were invited to take part in the Global Employee Benefits Watch survey in the first quarter of 2014. A total of over 150 respondents took part, representing more than 3 million employees worldwide. The respondents were generally senior executives and managers (25% HR directors, 17% HR managers), compensation and benefits/reward managers (25%) and directors (13%).Respondents were asked to complete an online survey regarding their reward strategy and the employee benefits that they offer currently, or intend to offer in the future.

The survey questions (split into categories such as benefits strategy, benefits administration, employee engagement and communications and employee concerns) were designed to help understand the drivers and motivations underlying their strategy and to explore their intentions and challenges in the future.