Equality | Will benefit fairness or flexibility help retain and engage employees in the 'new normal'?

Will benefit fairness or flexibility help retain and engage employees in the 'new normal'?

Is it a case of returning to normality? Or will a lot of people be having pandemic-related epiphanies about life and work?

If divorce rates are anything to go by, this might well be the case.1 Uncertainty has caused many people to stay put over the past year, meaning a surge of pent-up resignations might well be on the horizon, especially where companies haven’t covered themselves in glory when it comes to caring for their people. So, how can organisations retain and engage employees; especially where people are more diverse, disparate and perhaps disillusioned than ever before? And, moreoever, where budgets are tight. There’s currently a trend towards benefit fairness, but when it comes at the expense of flexibility can it really be the answer?

There’s now a growing realisation that the ‘new normal’ - over the next year at least - might well be articulated by constant change. So, retention and engagement will ultimately require reinvention, not a series of steps to an exit from the pandemic as was previously imagined. It will require the kind of flexibility, reach and efficiencies that only technology can facilitate; especially where employee benefits products and services are concerned. And that flexibility should apply as much to the benefits themselves, as to the delivery mechanism.

The transformational effect of technology

The Josh Bersin Academy’s recent business resilience study found that those organisations that manage to use technology to transform products and services are 4.3 time more likely to accomplish high levels of customer satisfaction (their internal as well as external ‘customers’).2

We’re already seeing this with access to frontline GP services, where technology in the form of video appointments has now become a convenient alternative to in-person appointments. Use of online GP services, and other services like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), increased exponentially last year.3

Such technology is here to stay as it clearly has value beyond the immediate pandemic crisis. So, how can organisations further build on this success?

Let’s get back to basics

Perhaps start by taking a forensic look at your current employee benefit and wellbeing programme. Does it address the base needs of employees? And does it afford flexibility to ensure relevance to all? If you were to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory to the workplace, those base needs - on which everything else rests - are, according to Bersin: salary, benefits, health and wellbeing (or food, water, shelter and rest according to the Maslow original).4

Let’s leave salary out of the picture for now, because that’s hopefully a given, and look at what really matters to people when it comes to benefits, health and wellbeing. As mentioned earlier, our fragility as humans and availability of healthcare support when needed are now front of mind.

Recent research by L&G found that employees – especially women – recognise the value of products such as group income protection (IP) in the current climate with regards to pressure on public health services. Over a quarter (27%) of women who said that group IP was relevant to them said what they valued about it most was: ‘in the current climate, I am concerned about the pressure on NHS services so want to protect my health the best I can’.5

The same goes for finances of course. Injury or health issues (including Covid-19) together at 21% represented the top reason for debt in 2020, ahead of unemployment or redundancy (18%).6

So, with salary protection in the event of long-term illness or injury, personalised return to work programmes and embedded value services – such as eldercare support and EAPs – that can be used at any time by employees and their families, there’s a strong argument for group IP to be considered a basic essential.

The protection gap of unmet needs

And, because right now only just under 12% of the UK workforce is covered by group IP, those employers that offer it arguably already have a competitive advantage. What’s more, that 12% is mainly confined to only the very biggest companies. Employees that work for SMEs have the same needs yet only 1.14% of eligible UK SMEs (i.e. 2-250 staff) have group income protection.7

SME workers that are covered report that they’re more focused on the embedded value services than they are on the claim. In other words, they’re more likely to use and value the product and services.8

Full circle back to technology: the enabler

So, if it’s such an essential product and could give companies a competitive edge, why doesn’t group IP form part of every benefit and wellbeing programme? For a start, there’s a misconception that it’s expensive. It isn’t. In fact, it could even be implemented on a cost neutral basis. The second argument has more legs though: traditional group IP is quite inflexible. That’s true. There are limited options to personalise the benefit to need.

As mentioned earlier, in a bid to meet diversity and inclusion goals, there’s now a noticeable trend towards fairness of benefits, with some companies introducing a minimum level of group life and / or IP for all. This is an improvement. But when fairness is prioritised to the exclusion of flexibility, it does nothing to empower those who want to scale up and down benefits to suit their needs. In other words, it doesn’t truly support diversity and inclusion goals.

However, new generation group protection – like L&G Protect – was designed to combat such problems. Bringing to employees mobile phone enabled group life, IP and critical illness cover, it’s inherently engaging. It also provides employees with choice and the ability to make changes to cover levels 24/7, dialling up or down cover to suit their needs.

Retaining and engaging employees in the pandemic economy (let’s ditch ‘new normal’) necessitates a considerable rethink. But getting the benefit and wellbeing basics right might just represent the perfect starting point. After all, it’s often the most basic things that make all the difference in any relationship.

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1The Week (15 May ’21) reported that the UK’s largest family law firm received 8,801 enquiries from people seeking a divorce between January and March this year, up from 4,505 in the same 3-month period last year.
2Josh Bersin Academy, The Big Reset Playbook: Returning to the workplace, Nov 2020 https://joshbersin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Big-Reset-Playbook_Returning-to-the-Workplace_Josh-Bersin_2020.pdf
3GRiD, 2020 Group Risk Claims press release https://grouprisk.org.uk/2021/05/14/employer-sponsored-group-risk-benefits-pay-record-claims-to-employees-during-2020
4Josh Bersin, Employee experience redefined: It’s now about safely coming to work, May 2020 https://joshbersin.com/2020/05/employee-experience-redefined-its-now-about-safely-coming-to-work/
5Legal & General commissioned Opinium to carry out research, involving 1,087 UK employees who have access to either IP, CIC or EAP, Dec 2020
6Step Change, A snapshot of UK persona debt statistics in 2020 [Accessed May 2021] https://www.stepchange.org/policy-and-research/2020-personal-debt-statistics.aspx?utm_source=linkedIn&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=stats-yearbook
7Swiss Re Group Protection 2020
8GRiD 2019 Employer Research 

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