Find out how Vodafone, Workday and SAP are supporting their people through covid-19

Find out how Vodafone, Workday and SAP are supporting their people through covid-19

Key insights from rewards and benefits experts

We asked three prominent reward and benefits experts, from Vodafone, Workday and SAP, how their businesses have adapted to support their people’s wellbeing through these unprecedented times. We found the discussion enlightening and despite the obvious strains on HR teams - perhaps there is opportunity and positivity that may come from the challenge of our recent circumstances.


  • Georgia Rule, Reward and Benefits Manager, Vodafone
  • Lisa Aslam, Senior Benefits Analyst, Workday
  • Neil Hopkinson, Total Rewards Partner, SAP


How has the pandemic impacted your business and what have you put in place to support your people?

Georgia, Vodafone: Retail is a very large arm of Vodafone operations, so closing all the retail stores has obviously had a big impact on the company. But Vodafone didn't want to furlough any employees so we started a project called ‘Agent at home’. In the space of a week, we moved all of our call centre employees from office-based locations and set them up so that they were able to do exactly the same role but based from home. The other key area of change was retraining our retail population into call centre advisors because they know our products inside and out. Rather than losing that wealth of knowledge and capability, we found a way of repurposing it.

Another big change was our recognition programme. Towards the end of 2019, Vodafone relaunched a new recognition programme called, 'The spirit of Vodafone.' We had completely re-energized it throughout all of our offices on spirit behaviours, designed to push people to not be afraid to fail. Encouraging them to think outside of the box and come up with new, innovative ideas to move the business forward.

When the pandemic happened, it was perfect timing for the recognition programme because people are already being pushed, rewarded and recognised for thinking differently.

Can you share what you've done at SAP to extend your support, not just to employees but their friends and family as well?

Neil, SAP: We were lucky because globally, 100,000 SAP employees, could pretty much carry on working without going into the office. SAP had none of the challenges that retail companies have. So our employees kept a secure job and stayed on full salary - very straightforward, you think.

Actually, where we saw there was an impact around the households. Just because the employee is in a good place it doesn't mean their wives, husbands, partners aren’t impacted, potentially having to take pay cuts or losing jobs. They might also have children at home needing homeschooled.

We've really focused on supporting our employees to manage their home life. That's been a mixture of things. One is we ask our employees to do their job when they can, we don't expect it to be Monday to Friday. We don't expect it to be nine to five, it's work when you can and work as much as you can.

We’ve also put in place additional wellbeing programmes which have really helped employees to manage some of those challenges. There's three that have really helped:

  • Firstly, we have an online GP service, in place for a year or so and the uptake has been fairly low. No more than 10% of our employees had signed up. But in the last three months, that's tripled in demand.
  • The second is our mental health programme. We have a lot of programmes in place to support our employees’ with their mental health. The demand for them has been huge. We've now trained 200 line managers in mental health support.
  • The third has been the financial wellbeing aspect. As I said, our employees have full pay but within the household there have been other financial impacts. So we really needed to put channels in place to support employees manage their finances, and possibly new circumstances.


Has the current crisis amplified your focus on wellbeing, and if so, what additional programmes have Workday rolled out in response to COVID-19 that may not have already been on your rewards roadmap for this year?

Lisa, Workday: Similarly, being a technology company our employees were set up to work from home. 17% of the global workforce already officially work from home. Everyone else who transitioned to home working, we offered a $250 stipend to buy any additional home furniture or equipment to be comfortable in the new working environment.

In March we gave everyone an additional half months pay to help with any additional unforeseen costs as a result of the crisis, ie. childcare support or purchasing anything urgently needed if the household income has been impacted. On top of that, for anyone who really was in a really difficult situation, we created an Employee Relief Fund, and this is managed through a third-party provider. It’s completely confidential if one of our employees applies. Nobody in Workday will ever know that they have, or whether or not they received the money. And so it's a very discreet service, and that's available for anyone in serious need of financial assistance.

What's really interesting with the financial assistance programme is that our employees can contribute to that fund as well. And anything that our employees contribute is then matched by Workday. And anyone wanting to support their colleagues, who may be in that position, can do so also.

We've put more focus on pension education, in response to the market, to make sure people take a long-term view and having the education from the local broker has been really important.

We've also introduced more time off – an additional 10 days sick pay. For anyone who's diagnosed with COVID-19 or to take care of a family member who is diagnosed. Additionally, we increased our childcare and eldercare provision by an extra five days.


What would be your advice to companies who are constrained by budget and can’t give people an additional half a months pay? What would be your top tip of how to get started with financial wellbeing?

Lisa, Workday: From a cost perspective, providing personalised financial education support is a relatively low-cost solution. It really enables employees to get the information they need to make sensible financial choices and decisions.

Georgia, Vodafone: It's looking at the cost of what is available, and the value that you will get from that. But for me, a big piece is communication and really helping employees understand what's on offer and how they can make their money go further. At Vodafone, we use nudge for communication and education For example, our medical cash plan helps employees with their everyday healthcare costs. Its take-up was standard but when we used nudge and did some education with our employees to help them understand the financial savings and how to be savvier, all of a sudden we saw take-up and engagement increase.

Helping your people really understand what they already have available to them is also important. If you have a savings platform, now is the perfect time to be really pushing the communication around things like, ‘share safe schemes’ which are helping people to invest in their future, and understand the risk-free element of it as well. It’s a lot about communication and just highlighting the support that’s already there.


Neil, you've got some really interesting views on this in terms of return on investment - how do we measure return when it comes to wellbeing?

Neil, SAP: You can't truly measure return on investment when it comes to wellbeing. A financial wellbeing programme is just simply - the right thing to do. If your employees are distracted by finance, they're not working effectively and clearly, so that will have an impact. But how can you truly measure impact? You can never have one employee with financial education and one without and compare the two. Therefore, don't focus too much on take-up. Don't focus on return investment. Just focus on your employees, what is impacting their daily lives at work, and put in place the right programmes to support them.

Georgia/ Lisa would you contradict or like to add to that at all?

Lisa, Workday: I agree with Neil - one hundred per cent. At Workday, we assess employee sentiment through an employee sentiment survey. During the lockdown, we wanted to find out if employees felt that they had been supported by Workday. We had a very positive response from our employees - so we feel confident that the measures that we've taken have been well received by our employees.

nudge has a new share feature on the platform - has SAP noticed employees using this feature in support of others in the household?

Neil, SAP: It launched in June, so I don’t have any data yet to say if they've used it or not, but I totally support that it’s the right thing to do. The timing was perfect.

Georgia, you've spoken about education programmes, I'd like to know more about how the programmes work and what were the most important impactful activities?

Georgia, Vodafone: At the time when we rolled out the education programmes, we were still delivering events in person. Nathan from nudge - who is a brilliant character, would go out on the road and speak to employees about financial wellness. When we went into lockdown, we moved online and gave employees the option to dial into calls and find out more about the information that is available to them.

Vodafone also set up a COVID-19 microsite which hosted all of the information about benefits and links to our EAP helpline and to the nudge platform. It also includes all education material, so it's easily accessible for employees.


To conclude and round-up the discussion

Firstly, thank you so much to Neil, Georgia and Lisa for the brilliant discussion.

Reflections on what's been discussed are the learning opportunities that have come from repurposing roles and development programmes have become unforeseen opportunities. 

It’s encouraging that employers are recognising family circumstances might impact employees, so extra paid time off and relief funds are incredible benefits. It’s worth noting the discussion around being discreet and confidential, in particular topics around the rules. It's really important that people feel that they've got safe space to be learning and engaging with financial wellbeing.

Then we had a discussion about ROI, and by default, when we talk about 'the return' we think of it in terms of pounds and pence. If I spent this now what return do I get, but actually the return on investment is much bigger than that. The discussion should move more to impact.

There's is conflict when it comes to 'the return' - you want people to use benefits because that's why you provide them, but ultimately it’s going to cost you money as an employer. Thus, is ROI really the best way to measure effectiveness?

In summary, let’s use what we've learned over the last few months, and move forward in a more positive way to build long term behavioural change in people’s relationships with money.

If you've been inspired by Neil, Georgia or Lisa's insight - why not get started now with 5 steps to support your people's wellbeing now. Or you can re-live the magic of the conversations included in this article by watching the full webinar recording.