Retailers turn to bonuses, benefits to aid workers during pandemic

Many of the rewards are a way to thank employees—and keep them working—during the COVID-19 outbreak.
By: | May 26, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

The majority of retailers are turning to bonuses, more pay and enhanced benefits to keep employees working during the coronavirus, according to new data.

A new survey of more than 50 major U.S. retailers by consulting firm Korn Ferry finds that 43% of essential retailer respondents to its May 6 survey say they have increased hourly pay, while 17% say they are offering a bonus to be paid into the future, and 22% say they are offering both increased hourly pay and a bonus. Only 17% say they are not offering premium pay, or “hero pay.” The largest percentage (43%) say they are paying store employees an extra $2 an hour on average.

Meanwhile, a third (33%) of essential retailers say they are also offering additional paid time off to store workers, 14% are offering an increased employee discount and 5% are offering increased overtime pay.

Advertisement

One reason employers are turning to these rewards is due to “recognizing that these employees were being asked to work in the public while much of the rest of America was asked to stay at home to limit their risk of catching the virus,” says Craig Rowley, senior client partner and retail expert at Korn Ferry.

Additionally, he says, most retailers have provided furloughed employees with health insurance and some paid the premiums. “This was recognizing that employees need healthcare more than ever during this pandemic and companies didn’t want employees to forgo it due to cost,” he says.

Related: 8 benefits employers should zero in on during the COVID-19 pandemic

Korn Ferry’s research is backed up by a number of recent employer moves.

Last week, Walmart said it will hand out another round of cash bonuses to thank its employees for working during the coronavirus pandemic. The retailer says it will pay a bonus of $300 to full-time hourly associates and $150 to part-time hourly and temporary associates—totaling more than $390 million. Rewards will be given to hourly associates in stores, clubs, supply chain and offices, and drivers and assistant managers in stores and clubs. This will be the company’s second cash bonus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In early April, it handed out the same amount—$300 for full-time hourly associates and $150 for part-time hourly associates, amounting to $365 million.

McDonald’s also said it’s awarding bonuses to every worker at its company-owned stores—equivalent to 10% of the workers’ pay earned in May. Other retailers, including Kroger, Levi Strauss & Co. and Target, have expanded paid leave benefits for workers.

Advertisement

Korn Ferry’s report follows another report by Willis Towers Watson, which also looked at the benefits changes employers at large are making in response to the pandemic. Nearly half of employers surveyed by Willis Towers Watson say they’re enhancing healthcare benefits and broadening wellbeing programs as a result of the current environment. More yet are turning to leave programs and other offerings as employees report significant challenges during the pandemic.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.