Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Navigating The “Next Normal” In Total Rewards

Korn Ferry research shows companies struggling to balance the need for near-term cost-cutting with the longer-term need to attract top talent.

Globally, employees continue to see pay freezes, pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs, and many businesses are not sure how long they will last. In new Korn Ferry research, approximately a third of organizations reported they had implemented, or plan to implement, salary cuts or freezes or delayed salary increases. While many companies cutting wages say the cuts will last three to four months (35 percent), an equal percentage say they have not yet determined how long the cuts will last.

In addition, nearly a third of organizations (32 percent) have implemented or are planning temporary furloughs. While 43 percent say the furloughs are expected to last three to four months, 27 percent say they do not know how long the furloughs will last. More than a third (37 percent) have either implemented or are considering permanent layoffs, affecting 10 percent of their workforces on average.

These are not the only interventions organizations are taking to control their labor costs. In addition:

• 29 percent are offering voluntary unpaid leave;

• 69 percent are delaying new hires; and

• 50 percent are reducing overtime

Since our first survey in March, we have seen a continued increase in the percentage of companies implementing reductions in pay, benefits and staff. With the uncertain path and length this pandemic is taking, it is critical that leaders monitor the situation regularly and adjust plans to meet the evolving situation, while still keeping an eye to longer-term recovery. Organizations do not want to be caught flat-footed for the recovery as many were who relied heavily on layoffs to reduce labor costs during the 2008/2009 economic recession.

Long-term changes

Many organizations have already acknowledged changes in management practices over the next year or two. Seventy-five percent of organizations have signaled the need to continue to work more virtually. More than half (53 percent) say they will be more disciplined about cost management, and 40 percent say they will be more focused on employee engagement. Moreover, a majority of organizations (61 percent) expect to make changes to their total rewards programs during the next six months to two years, with 28 percent expecting significant changes.

This pandemic, and the economic fallout it has created, also provides organizations the opportunity, if not the mandate, to accelerate changes in reward program management.  Organizations probably have more latitude—and a greater sense of urgency—to make necessary program changes than was likely the case before Covid-19. The issue is more acute for sectors such as non-essential retailers, leisure and hospitality, oil and gas and distribution organizations. They will have even more of a sense of urgency to make needed changes.

While it’s obviously better to follow your internal compass versus chasing a common market practice that is not relevant in the ‘next normal’, we know from the many client conversations and industry roundtables we’ve conducted over the past few months that understanding what others are doing remains a key input to creating new frameworks going forward. A key question is, what is next for total reward programs? Our global research and our consulting work with clients indicate five key areas of focus in total rewards over the next six months to two years. These include:

1. Fit-for-purpose total reward strategy (principles, strategy and design)

2. Performance management programs (principles, metrics, goal setting, coaching and assessment)

3. Short-term incentive / bonus pay design (eligibility, goals, targets, thresholds, exception management)

4. Job architecture frameworks (job design, career development, job evaluation)

5. External pay benchmarking processes (competitiveness strategy, aggregate benchmarking, target differentiation)

It will take time to adapt to a new way of doing business, but organization leaders must remember that, to attract and continue to engage and retain the best talent, their rewards and benefit programs must be competitive, cost-effective and clearly valued by employees —a delicate balancing act in the best of circumstances and, clearly, far more challenging today.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.