“You can't separate wage policy from business strategy”

Hudson and Vlerick combine forces to present the ‘Future House of Rewards’

“We have rarely organised an event that gave the participants so much food for thought in such a short space of time,” says Ivan De Witte, CEO of Hudson Benelux. During the ‘Future House of Rewards’ conference at the Brussels Vlerick campus, the large audience gained a lot of insights. After a presentation of the white paper ‘Future House of Rewards’, inspiring practical examples followed from Ontex and KBC. The highlight: an animated panel debate with a number of big players from the Belgian entrepreneurial landscape. We discussed the subject with Ivan De Witte and Xavier Baeten, Professor of Reward & Sustainability at Vlerick.

The tone of the conference was set straight away with the presentation of the white paper ‘Future House of Rewards’. Why did you create this white paper?

Xavier Baeten: “Fifty-five-year old employees (executive staff and lower management) earn an average of 45% more than their 30-year-old colleagues in the same role. This is not only a fundamental injustice, but also a problem in the current context, with people increasingly working for longer. That was the starting point for launching this academic study within the Centre for Excellence in Strategic Rewards at Vlerick Business School in cooperation with Hudson.”

Ivan De Witte - HudsonIvan De Witte: “We have also encountered in the field that a new approach to wage policy is required. The time is ripe to do things differently: the context has changed but so have the responsibilities. These no longer rest only with employers but also with the employees who want flexibility and to have a say. The study fits perfectly within the chair we have with Vlerick around ‘Managing Talent of the Future’. The white paper ‘Future House of Rewards’ gives recommendations that are based on an analysis of new and existing academic research as well as an international comparison study, but implementation in practice is also covered comprehensively.”

Why did you organise a conference?

Xavier Baeten: “The high attendance - we were fully booked - demonstrates that there is a lot of support for this. We wanted to provide a nuanced story and we therefore thought it was important not only to present the results of our study but also to offer examples in practice and to provide space for different opinions. For the panel debate, in addition to Ivan De Witte from Hudson, we also invited Rudy de Leeuw, Chair of ABVV and EVV, Dieter de Waegeneer, Senior Vice President of People, Organisation & Sustainability at Delhaize and Bart Buysse, General Director of VBO.”

The panel debate was the highlight of the event. What did you think of it?

Ivan De Witte: “I thought it was inspiring and nuanced. There were people around the table operating from varying perspectives but they were not hardliners who wanted to focus on differences. These people all know what they’re talking about and their careful approach shows that they want to do the right thing. Consultation, communication and a fair approach: that’s what we all want.”

“Taking vision as a starting point rather than acute need will get you much further.” Xavier Baeten, Professor of Reward & Sustainability at Vlerick

Where do you think the emphasis should be in practice?

Xavier Baeten - Vlerick Business SchoolXavier Baeten: “You can't get around the fact that something needs to be done to create a better link between wage policy and reality, but this is a story that requires time. We also need to make sure that things are done for the right reasons. If you take costs as a starting point, it doesn't work. I see ‘cafeteria plans’ popping up all over the place, for example, but these are almost all driven by fiscal considerations. That sounds logical in our Belgian context, where the cost of wages is certainly high, but too little account is still taken of the interests of the employee going beyond pure finance, while everyone has a lot to gain from that. Another aspect is the fact that you can’t separate the wage policy from the business strategy. And this is an area where Hudson has a huge advantage. Taking vision as a starting point rather than acute need will get you much further.”

“It’s time for change, but it’s not a black and white story.” Ivan De Witte, CEO Hudson Benelux

Ivan De Witte: “I am glad you mentioned that, Xavier. Every wage policy is part of a context: reward is inextricably linked with economy and a company’s objectives. It is therefore important for the management of the businesses to be on board with this story too and for the shareholders to engage with this. It’s time for change, but it’s not a black and white story: the seniority model is under pressure but we shouldn’t abandon it completely either. After all, people doing the same job for a long period for the same pay seems unimaginable to me. I also want to highlight the time aspect. We have already come a long way, but in order to implement the recommendations in the white paper in practice you need to really take plenty of time.”

How is the cooperation between Hudson and Vlerick going?

Ivan De Witte: “Very well. We have just extended our Chair Partnership as I really believe in the cross-pollination between our employees in the field and the academics at Vlerick. An event like this shows that, as an HR expert, Hudson is not only following the evolutions in the HR world but fostering them and delivering added value. In a rapidly changing world, it’s good to have a sounding board like Vlerick and to show our future employees that we are working at the cutting edge of innovation. Finally, I would like to quickly explain the link with professional football. There, the 'war for talent’ is raging just as hard as in the business world and reward is not only awarded on the basis of experience but actual performance also plays an increasingly important role.”