From how leaders are driving the conversation on pay transparency, to what rewards of the future could look like, here's a quick summary of what we uncovered, as reported by Priya Sunil & Aditi Sharma Kalra.

On 16 and 17 August 2022, Human Resources Online had the pleasure of hosting our Total Rewards Asia Summit 2022, Malaysia, for a crowd of over 150 HR & rewards professionals. 

The summit, or TRAS as we like to call it, saw two days of knowledge-packed panels, presentations, networking, and roundtables covering the latest trends and practices leaders and teams across the country have been involved in (or are looking into) in the rewards space. 

From how leaders are driving the conversation on pay transparency, to what rewards of the future could look like, here's a quick summary of what we uncovered through the sessions, as reported by Aditi Sharma Kalra and Priya Sunil.

Retaining talent amidst the Great Reshuffle

The Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, or the Great Awakening – whatever you might call it, the bottom line is it has presented an opportunity for rewards practitioners to overhaul their structures and rewards for what really matters.

One of the points highlighted on this topic was around flexibility in the workforce – many people think it simply means working from home. However, it can, and should, go beyond that. It can include having in place ways of work such as variable shifts/exchange of shifts without managers’ approval – while these may sound challenging to implement, it all really comes down to a mindset change.

Another key thing is trust between leaders and employees - letting employees know they have a say in workforce decisions: that it's no longer about "I (the leader) want this, so you (the employee) have to do it.' Rather, it's now about 'what you (the employee) want, I'll (the leader) do it.'

In other words, in today's changing times, it is important for leaders to have confidence in employees and the decisions they make.

Managing the workforce effectively

One of the hardest decisions that leaders have had to make since the onset of the pandemic was workforce reductions. 

While businesses are finally emerging from these trying times, many are still having to relook their workforce numbers in line with business priorities. How can leaders ensure they remain fair, just, and considerate in their decisions?

Among key learnings derived from this topic, are some positive steps leaders can take to avert or minimise the need for reductions, in line with the Code of Conduct for Industrial Harmony:

  • Limitation on recruitment
  • Restriction on overtime work
  • Restriction of work on weekly days of rest
  • Reduction in the number of shifts or days worked per week
  • Reduction in the number of hours worked
  • Retraining and/or transfer of employees to other departments/work.

Additionally, when faced with cash flow issues, leaders may have had to resort to salary reductions. The key thing to understand here is that this cannot be carried out unilaterally — consent must be obtained before doing so, to avoid any allegations of breach of conduct. Communication is key – be it through townhalls, meetings, emails, online conferences, or other forms of communication.

"Prevention is better than cure" - tips on cultivating a healthier workforce

At the heart of it all, where do anxiety and stress start? That was the question raised in one of the sessions. 

Yes, we are all busy, but our speaker emphasised the big difference between multitasking and simultaneous multitasking – and that’s not how the brain works, because it can only do one thing at a time. If you keep shifting your focus from each task, in each shift, you are going through higher cognitive overload.

And the reality is, that people who are constantly shifting between tasks are actually 25-30% less productive than those who batch process tasks.

Keep this data in mind when you’re planning your team’s workload next. Simple things can make a difference – for instance, not expecting an immediate reply to a text that allows one to focus on one task at a time. 

Looking deeper, it's time to adopt a CARE mindset to ensure a healthy work culture - one that is a collective team responsibility.

  • Check for signals
  • Apply non-judgemental conversation
  • Reassure support with information
  • Ensure help is received

Building a sustainable compensation philosophy

Salary bills are rising but salary budgets are not — resulting in a growing gap.

With inflation and costs rising, how can leaders strike a balance between their salary budgets and the workforce's demands for higher compensation and varying workforce needs?

For one, take a more targeted approach, keeping in mind that one size does not fit all. At the same time, rewards teams have to help business partners and the leadership team understand how to initiate conversations around this upfront, and that it is a whole-of-leadership responsibility — not just the rewards team's.

What are some ways organisations can build a sustainable compensation philosophy, in order to remain relevant while keeping revenues intact? Some key takeaways include:

  • To attract & retain talent, and reward talent based on exceptional performance
  • To focus on the “exceptional impact” which associates are making on the business
  • To approach compensation collectively
  • To have fair representation in management, in terms of gender, for compensation & benefits (Gender-neutral policies)

Another important aspect covered on this topic was how organisations can better manage compensation in the IR4.0 era — as many move from a ‘classical’ organisation, to a ‘digital’ organisation.

  • First, it involves a deep understanding of what IR4.0 means – it's relevant to any organisation whether you’re moving into digital or not.
  • It means employers have to tap on the gig economy - How are your policies designed to integrate them
  • The hierarchical way of working does not work here anymore.
  • It also means being equipped to handle skills-based compensation.

Apart from that, how can employers motivate and retain employees, with a tight increment budget (e.g., 3-5%) on hand?

  • Look at how you will be distributing it
  • Find a balance between taking care of the masses, and rewarding your high performers
  • Do your homework on structure, the philosophy you’re applying, etc.
  • Tap on analytics to analyse your attrition rates, etc, to see how this increment can be set in place.
  • Think about how you’re driving a sense of purpose for employees – for instance, look at sustainability – how can rewards support that?

Last, what are some rewards strategies organisations can explore to retain key talent with the most in-demand skills and high-paying skills?

  • Drive pay transparency and compensation around it, which encourages leaders to take accountability for their team.
  • Don’t speak about compensation as a standalone – talk about your internal benefits, offerings, and opportunities, based on the EVP scheme and the critical skill sets needed.
  • Make personalised offers.
  • Communicate to the wider organisation about your approach.

Taking a look at Rewards of the future

What is Rewards of the future all about? It's about shifting towards a highly customised, highly agile model. It also involves greater communication to your stakeholders – and this cannot be emphasised enough, as we learnt in one of the sessions.

Organisations will move (if they aren’t already moving):

  • From having a salary structure to implementing market-driven salary
  • From benefits tied to Grade to DIY-atomised benefits
  • From compa ratios to real-time pricing
  • From market anchoring to market-making, wherein rewards teams will decide on how much to pay, relevant to what you want to pay, tying it back to the deliverables)
  • From benchmarking to contracting

Compensation is also taking on a bigger role – one that will tie closely with ESG & DEI in the workforce.

Food for thought we took away as a bonus: Is it time to change the term ‘rewards’ to ‘value’, as we move into the future?

Pay transparency: Yay or nay?

How many of you have policies against discussing pay in the organisation?

How many of you would be open to having policies in discussing pay in a safe way – that allows people to understand why they are being paid what they are being paid?

What actually drives productivity? Having fair and enlightening conversations around compensation is a very good way of building better relationships with your manager.

So what’s the real problem with pay transparency? 86% of employees say they are underpaid, while 73% of companies feel they are paying employees fairly. What's going on here? A lack of trust. Possible issues in the employee-manager relationships. And finally, a true view into the value of their role.

Our speaker shared seven key elements leaders can adopt to embrace pay transparency:

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • Data
  • Flexibility
  • Manager
  • Communication
  • All underpinned by - systems and tools

4 elements to drive holistic wellbeing

Undoubtedly, wellbeing goes beyond mental and physical — and also covers financial and social wellness.

There are four elements leaders can look into in driving holistic wellbeing in their workforce:

  • Live Well: Focus on physical wellness through promoting health screenings, physical activity, good nutrition, and access to quality health services.
  • Think Well: Focus on mental wellness through fostering awareness of mental health, providing education, self-help tools, coaching, counselling, and access to mental health providers.
  • Plan Well: Focus on financial wellness by improving financial literacy, providing self-help tools and solutions, and access to professional help for planning and managing finances across different life stages.
  • Feel Well: Focus on social wellness to reinforce employees’ self-esteem by building an inclusive work environment and supportive network that fosters a sense of belonging to a wider community.

How SMEs and startups can remain competitive among the big players

It’s common for talent to always feel that MNCs have better benefits than a start-up or even an SME. So how do start-ups remain competitive? It’s a multi-million-dollar question, our panellist shared.

Ultimately, attracting and retaining talent as an SME/start-up all comes down to how you position yourself as a competitive firm. Understand what the real reason was that someone has applied for a job, and most importantly, look into how to make the environment conducive for them to stay, and not trigger a desire to leave.

Tips our panellists have shared for SMEs/start-ups who are just starting out their rewards journey:

  • Always have the fundamentals in place – i.e., decent medical benefits.
  • Once you have these in place, it’s time to look at other benefits – for instance, network benefits (linked to your own product offerings), and eventually, more intensive aspects such as L&D.

Skills-based learning and rewards practices: A dialogue that's constantly needed

In setting up a rewards practice that drives the skills you are looking to inculcate in your workforce, do

  • Identify your skills and skills inventory
  • Get involved in competencies development
  • Formulate a rewards model to incentivise
  • Skills-based talent and business process

It’s a constant dialogue that needs to be happening, our speaker affirmed.

Organisations can consider implementing various rewards initiatives – but it is key to think of the duration: how long you want to run the reward, and more.

Leaders are often faced with the age-old question: to upskill or to acquire talent with the ready skills. While upskilling is often the go-to, it may sometimes have drawbacks – the lack of “out of the box” ideas at times. So the key to your skills practice would be a healthy balance of both.

Another important question leaders have is – how do we retain employees once they’ve gained new skills?

Some ways could be:

  • Paying them competitively
  • Creating a workplace where people are comfortable, feel respected, and feel that they can contribute as valuable members of the workforce.

Having a continuous growth mindset must become a norm in leaders and employees today. Think of the skills that will help you evolve as a leader, and help your workforce evolve as individuals.

What it takes to craft a 360o employee care system

One of the most important lessons we have learnt from the past two years is that total wellbeing ties directly to employee performance, so companies are expected to cover all aspects of their talent’s health.

One of our panel discussions saw some interesting insights on crafting a 360° employee care programme:

  • For companies with smaller budgets, start the journey by knowing what you are trying to achieve out of the programme. Where needed or possible, tap on partners who can work with you to share their expertise.
  • Look at your EVP – what is the EVP to your people, the promise you give them when they join? From there, have conversations with your team, and get your line managers to have conversations with their own teams.
  • Getting them involved and having them know the top three things that are very important to them and their team members, makes a difference in the journey.

Most importantly, always start with checking in on yourself as a person, not just as an HR leader – what makes you happy, how healthy are you? You must be of sound mind, you must be healthy, and you must be at peace with yourself before looking into the wellbeing of others (i.e., your team and your employees)!


Human Resources Online would like to thank all speakers, panellists, moderators, and roundtable hosts for their immense time and mind space invested in leading the industry conversations. We would also like to thank all sponsors & partners for putting their innovative might behind this event and supporting HRO all the way:

  • Platinum sponsor - Naluri
  • Gold sponsors 
    • AIA
    • Unit4 Prosoft
  • Silver sponsors
    • LifeWorks
    • ThoughtFull
  • Exhibitors
    • GrabForBusiness
    • PERSOLKELLY Consulting

Photo / Total Rewards Asia Summit 2022, Malaysia

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