It has been a long time coming but finally the first flushes of economic recovery are with us.

So for the first time in five years we can look forward to a new year which brings better prospects for our organisations than the last. Not only is it refreshing for the media to have moved on from its gloomy pessimism, but it is great to meet clients and prospects who feel excited about the year ahead.

And yet despite all the good news, 2014 looks like a being an even trickier year than recent ones from a reward perspective. Part of this will be down to the gap between the improving economy and the willingness of employers to invest in salary increases.

According to new research from the Chartered Management Institute, wages are likely to stagnate or even be subject to further cuts in 2014. This is a far cry from the kind of improvements any employee would expect to come as the good times return.

At the same time, the cost of living continues to erode disposable income and the average employee feels poorer than they did five years ago. When more buoyancy returns to the jobs market this is likely to pose significant challenges for organisations whose staff will likely see a change of employer as the best way of improving their financial position.

There may be no money in the pot for wage increases but I think – even after five years of recession – there is still much more organisations can do with their benefits proposition to give an uplift to employee finances, bridge the cost of living gap and retain employees who may be thinking of going elsewhere.

Salary sacrifice schemes can put money in the pocket of employees at little or no cost to employers while delivering genuine support for employees. Employee savings and discount platforms are a no-brainer benefit that will help employees save hundreds of pounds on day-to-day spending across the year. Voluntary benefits which include health cash plans can help with surprise bills from the optician or dentist.

These are just three suggestions and I think there is much more that can be done in other areas with non-traditional benefits like flexible working or compressed hours.

The important thing for us all is to remember is that our employees are still feeling the squeeze and likely to do so in the year ahead. Doing something about it has to be our top priority.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director at Edenred – for more comment, insight and whitepapers visit you call follow Andy on twitter @andy_philpott