Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Employers offering better benefits to help struggling employees

While employers cannot always afford salary increases to help employees with their cost-of-living battles, they find other ways to assist.

Employers are offering better benefits in addition to better salary increases to help struggling employees who face high prices combined with debt and high interest rates. Despite average salary increases starting to align with inflation for the first time since 2020, the real cost of living is escalating at an even faster pace.

“Adjusting salaries is just one part of the equation. The cost of living, especially for necessities like food, electricity and transport, is accelerating at a rate higher than both inflation and the salary increases we are seeing,” Lindiwe Sebesho, managing director of Remchannel, says.

“This means that the economic challenges that result in high indebtedness will persist, although salary increases are now more aligned with the core CPI.” Remchannel published its latest report on salary and benefit trends this week.

Samantha Jagdessi, head of strategy at Old Mutual Corporate Consultants, says the indebtedness is very real.

“Members of our retirement funds are struggling to balance the cost of living against the inflation they face, including double-digit increases in the cost of medical aid. Everyone feels like they are taking a step backwards.”

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Employers re-evaluating employee value propositions

From their side employers are re-evaluating their employee value propositions and getting creative with their strategies.

“They recognise they often cannot afford higher salary increases, but they understand that their employees need assistance to manage and avoid continuing in a debt-dependent cycle,” Sebesho says.

In response, companies are enhancing their suite of benefits and perks to attract and retain talent.

“We see more employers giving employees early access to their salaries, known as earned wage access, subject to financial education. This means that employers are now paying workers more frequently than once a month, helping them to manage their needs more effectively.”

Sebesho says earned wage access allows employees to access their pay as they earn it, enabling them to manage their cash flow without resorting to expensive debt. A cash advance, on the other hand, involves borrowing against future earnings which can lead to poorer outcomes if not managed properly.

In addition, employers are increasingly offering ‘soft loans’ with more favourable terms compared to traditional bank loans. These loans often have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment schedules.

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Solutions becoming part of employee benefit packages

“These solutions have become an integral part of employee benefit packages, designed to give employees the financial support they need to handle immediate expenses without undue stress,” she said.

Employers get the benefit that employees who do not have to worry too much about money are more focused and productive.

Jagdessi says employers are also introducing flexibility into retirement contribution plans, allowing employees to choose lower pensionable salaries and retirement contribution rates that enables them to have greater take-home pay to manage their immediate financial needs.

“However, ensuring that employees are well-informed on balancing short-term needs with long-term retirement savings is a tricky balance to navigate. What we see is that most employees opt for the minimum entry-level and lower default categories when it comes to retirement funding. Some employers are also reviewing their risk benefits proposition to balance current benefits with future needs from an affordability perspective.”

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With flexibility comes responsibility

However, she warns that with flexibility comes responsibility. “Employers and HR managers should ensure that employees are educated and get the necessary information on the impact of the choices they make on their retirement outcomes.”

She further recommends that ongoing education and financial awareness are necessary to help employees with their financial and retirement well-being journey.

Flexible work also continues to be a differentiating benefit, Sebesho says. “In light of the evolving expectations of today’s workforce, our latest survey reveals an ongoing trend towards offering a more adaptable work environment, with a significant uptick in hybrid work arrangements.”

Remarkably, 83% of employers surveyed have embraced hybrid models, a substantial increase from just 41% in 2019. This trend not only reflects the growing demand for workplace flexibility but also highlights proactive approaches to fostering employee well-being and attracting skilled professionals in a fiercely competitive landscape.

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More key insights of Remchannel salary and benefits report

Other insights from the research the report is based on revealed:

  • Employers use different salary increase policy types to cater for various employee levels, with a combination of inflation and performance being the most common approach for non-unionised employees.
  • Executives saw a decrease in their salary increases, from an average of 5.92% in April 2023 to 5.66% in April 2024. Average increases for management also fell to 5.87% (April 2024) from 5.94% (April 2023), while general staff increases dropped from 6.13% to 6.04% during the same comparative periods. The same decrease trend is seen for unionised staff, from 6.41% (April 2023) to 6.16% in April 2024.
  • Performance remains a key differentiator in salary increments, with 37.7% of companies also using performance outcomes as a reference for awarding bonuses to reward and retain top talent.
  • Pay transparency, as set out in the impending Companies Amendment Bill, is expected to significantly influence pay policies and corporate governance practices. While 80% of participants indicated that they already conduct a fair pay analysis annually, only 53% disclose the outcomes thereof to the governance structure responsible for remuneration.

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