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Survey Report

2020 Outlook: New trends in Middle East employee benefits and what they mean for your company

Based on the results from the 2019 – 2020 Benefit Trends Survey

By Steve Clements | February 13, 2020

With salary budgets under pressure organisations need to modernise their employee benefits and align them to suit the needs of an ever-changing workforce
Health and Benefits|Wellbeing

A tight labour market and key talent shortage is not just a problem for companies in the Middle East, but across the globe.

A high demand for key talent, and constantly changing skill requirements, are making it far harder for organisations to attract and retain the right employees to enable successful business growth.

With salary budgets under pressure, in order to remain a compelling option for top talent, organisations need to modernise their employee benefits and align them to suit the needs of an ever-changing workforce.

So, here’s the outlook for employee benefits in the Middle East for 2020, and how you can implement them in your company.

  1. 01

    Focusing on talent experience

    The Willis Towers Watson 2019 Benefits Trend Survey Middle East reveals that talent experience and employee engagement with benefits are high priorities for many multi-national companies.

    In the survey, 73% of respondents were looking to enhance their communication of benefits to employees. However, it’s a clear sticking point, with many employers still struggling to engage and motivate employees with their benefits.

    of Middle East employers are looking to enhance their communication of benefits
Organization's priorities when communicating benefits to employees
Percentages indicate “To a great extent” or “To a very great extent”. * Only for multi-national companies.

Source: 2019 Benefit Trends Survey, Middle East

How to improve communication and employee engagement with benefits

Communication and how you ‘get the message across’ are the key to ensuring your employees understand the importance and value of benefits. That way they can make informed decisions based on their needs and preferences.

  • Collect external market data to measure and value specific benefits against comparable job roles at peer organisations so that benefits are aligned with market norms.
  • Use feedback to gain valuable insights into your employees’ wants and needs. Use formal and informal methods to collect perspectives from employees on their employee benefits – what they like and dislike, which benefits and features do they value over others?
  • Improve access to benefits through tools and technology such as online training programmes, mobile apps, video blogs, webinars and a simplified benefits enrolment process. Consider the needs and preferences of a multi-generational workforce and give them a choice of how benefits can be accessed.
  • Tailor the communication of benefits to different segments of your workforce depending on their age, role and where they are in their career path.
  1. 02

    Improving core and broader benefits

    While core benefits such as health insurance, pension (or end of service benefits) plans and paid time off are still the main priority for employees, there’s a growing emphasis on broader benefits to attract and retain the right talent. Going into 2020, the focus is on incorporating a broader range of benefits such as employee wellbeing, inclusion and diversity, and enhancing flexibility and choice.

    According to the Middle East Willis Towers Watson 2019 – 2020 Benefit Trends Survey, the most highly effective organisations consider enhancing both core and broader benefits a top priority. In fact, 74% of organisations in this category prioritised this.

    of Middle East employers prioritise enhancing both core and broader benefits

    Employee wellbeing is a primary consideration, with over half of employers taking part in the survey prioritising the incorporation of wellbeing as part of their benefit programmes strategy.

Broader benefits to consider for 2020

Look to expand your benefits strategies to incorporate more than just physical wellbeing. Our survey found that more employers are addressing other areas of employee wellbeing such as:

  • Emotional – improving mental health and stress management programmes.
  • Financial – debt management and financial education programmes.
  • Social – strengthening networks, social groups at work and community support activities, enhancing corporate social responsibility policies and aligning benefits with these.
  • Inclusion and diversity – parental leave, facilities for nursing mothers, and support for non-traditional family structures.

In addition, highly effective organisations are four times more likely to prioritise flexibility and choice – factors that are needed to meet the growing demands of a diverse workforce. They allow employees to personalise their benefits according to their individual needs and preferences. For example, the choice in the benefit level, voluntary benefits and flexible benefits.

However, it’s important to get the balance right. There’s no point in wasting resources on benefits that employees aren’t interested in. Better to offer a smaller choice of meaningful benefits than an extensive range in an attempt to please everyone. There are also costs, resources, as well as legal and regulatory compliance issues to consider.

The key is to understand your workforce and create a benefits package that’s tailored to meet their needs while still offering competitive core benefits.

  1. 03

    Enhancing the use of analytics, tools and technology

    As companies move towards digital transformation, benefits strategies are focusing on the use of analytics to understand employee behaviour and needs.

    In the Willis Towers Watson 2019 Benefit Trends Survey Middle East, 88% of highly effective organisations use analytics to understand employee wants and needs.

    Data can also be integrated with HR information systems to streamline the administrative and operational side of benefits programmes. Technology is also being used to connect with employees and make it easier for them to access, understand and manage their benefits programmes.

    In the survey, the majority of organisations are planning to provide more technology and support tools to communicate employee benefits over the next three years.

    Tools and technologies orgainzations use when communicating benefits to employees
    Tools and technologies orgainzations use when communicating benefits to employees

    Integrating technology as part of your benefits strategy Smart use of technology can enhance the employee experience while streamlining benefits administration and management.

    • Use feedback, data and analytics to gain valuable insights into employee wants and needs. This will help you to effectively create benefits packages that provide real value to your staff.
    • Make use of digital tools such as mobile apps and online benefits platforms to drive engagement and improve employee experience by providing easy access to benefits sign-ups and programmes.
    • Providing support tools and self-service systems for employees will empower them to make informed decisions about their benefits, which in turn will enhance their employee experience.
    • Integrate your benefits information with HR information systems on a simplified, all-in-one platform which requires a single sign-in.

  2. 04

    Implementing data management and compliance

    Going into 2020, management and compliance with regard to benefits administration and operations is still a major challenge for organisations.

    Data management and security are at the top of the list with 73% of organisations in our survey considering them a priority. Legal and regulatory compliance come a close second.

    As a result, highly effective organisations, according to our survey, are more actively integrating their benefits administration with other HR systems to include:

    • Data management and security
    • Legal and regulatory compliance
    • Documentation of operational policies and procedures

Data Management & Security


Legal & Regulatory Compliance


Formal documentation of operational policies and procedures


Integration of benefits administration with other HR systems


Focus on technology and automation in benefits administration


Benefits operations (shared service center/centers of excellence, outsourced administration)


Vendor and advisor management

UAE labour law is currently undergoing changes, with a focus on gender equality, multiculturism, disabled employees and flexible working. In light of the government initiatives and to remain competitive, UAE firms need to address their own benefits packages.

By examining benefit trends and modernising your own strategies, you’ll be a step ahead of competitors in the continuing race to attract and retain top talent.


Director Global Service Solutions – CEEMEA

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