This week’s news that the economy is starting to recover from five years in the mire provided a welcome boost as many of us head off for a summer break.

For the first time in a long time, we can be buoyed by the prospect of better times ahead and look forward to the end of the year with optimism rather than trepidation.

Yet despite these signs of an upswing in the economy, those of us involved in pay and reward still need to remember the extent to which employees are feeling the chill of austerity.

For many workers, life still appears to be getting worse, not better. We are on average an estimated £1,300 worse off than in 2008 and to maintain the same standard of living as 2002 you now have to spend 45% more than they did then, says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

I am pointing this out, not to be a doom-monger, but to make the point that in in an environment of low or no wage increases and rising inflation and a recovering job market, we are going to have to work harder than ever to retain and motivate our employees so we have the right people to help our organisations benefit from the recovery.

For those employers who feel hamstrung by the inability to pay more or invest heavily in new reward and benefits there is some good news: the playing field is a level one and few organisations are likely to start turning on the taps with bumper pay rises and bonuses.

So rather than delivering big bang changes to reward packages, the challenge for all of us is to continue to focus on delivering continuous improvement in what we offer employees.

How can we do that?

Top of the list should be the provision of benefits which make a material difference to financial wellbeing. We are seeing substantial growth in adoption of employee discount schemes but many more employees could benefit from these as well as focusing on salary sacrifice-type benefits.

Next we should focus on making it easier for employees to make the most of what is available: mobile-enabled benefits which give employees the chance to use them when and where they need them.

Lastly we need to focus on communication. Not just promoting what is on offer but doing it in a way which chimes with the way employees feel about their situation.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director at Edenred – you can access more insight on benefits and reward at our knowledge hub –  www.edenred.co.uk/ehub/

Follow us on twitter – @edenreduk or @andy_philpott

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