Workplace culture | Refreshing employee benefits to reflect the new world of work

Refreshing employee benefits to reflect the new world of work

By Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director, MHR International

Employee attitudes to rewards and benefits have always varied according to personal circumstances and workplace culture. In recent years typical employee benefits packages have diversified from traditional health or dental insurance, gym memberships, reward schemes and company cars. Many businesses now provide a range of benefits that have evolved to appeal to all generations.

These range from in-office perks such as free drinks and snacks, pool tables and early finishes on a Friday, to more significant benefits such as sabbatical leave, internal secondments, and additional days off to complete charity or volunteer work.

None of this comes for free. The question for employers has always been how to strike the balance between rewards and their costs. The reality is that most employees lack a full appreciation of the true value of benefits, especially where they’re provided as standard rather than as part of a flexible benefits package. Sometimes the value is invisible because it doesn’t appear on a payslip. When the value does appear, employees may even view benefits negatively because of the extra tax incurred – even though this is much less than the actual value of the benefit.

Financial wellbeing and resilience are major concerns after Covid

One of the most significant areas where employers should refresh their benefits packages relates to financial resilience and wellbeing. There are good reasons why organisations should take employee financial resilience seriously. A PwC survey in the US this year found employees undergoing financial stress are less productive, while a survey last year by the Mental Health Foundation revealed a third of UK adults were worried about their finances.

Employees might need short-term assistance to help them understand how to better manage their money or avoid debt. However, they also need longer-term coaching and guidance so they can rationalise their finances and plan ahead. Financial wellness programmes and coaching sessions that address more than pensions are a genuine benefit to employees of all age groups and can be delivered online.

Reviewing benefits packages

Employers should not assume their workforces continue to rate them highly for their benefits packages. An IBM survey of 19,000 workers across nine countries in January found that fewer than half (47 per cent) rated their employer well for their compensation and benefits package.

As they emerge from the pandemic, organisations should reassess their rewards and benefits packages and ask whether they still meet employee expectations. Employers who continue to invest in benefits that employees don’t use or value are wasting their money.

New patterns of remote or hybrid work may make subsidised membership of a specific gym, for example, less attractive if employees aren’t in the locality as often. And if they spend less time in the workplace, employees are likely to place a lower value on subsidised travel and food, childcare vouchers, workplace car parking or end-of-week office get-togethers. Whatever benefits employers provide, they also need to be accessible to employees, regardless of location.

Employees want meaningful rewards that they can use and benefit from. And they’ll be better disposed towards an employer that actually makes an effort to find out what they want. Organisations with the technology to facilitate regular dialogue between managers and employees and gather an accurate sense of workers’ requirements will always be at an advantage. If, for example, nobody under the age of 40 uses a financial advice service, then employers should be able to find out why not from workforce feedback.

Taking a holistic view and considering employee wellbeing

Businesses looking to review their benefits packages should take a more holistic view, examining all areas that impact their workforce, including physical and mental wellbeing. These twin topics have emerged strongly as factors that influence workforce attitudes. Wellbeing needs to be one of the prime considerations since research shows employees now place more emphasis on benefits with a health and wellbeing aspect. Evidence of this is in a recent IBM survey which found more than a quarter (26 per cent) of employees who changed jobs during the pandemic said they did so because they wanted more benefits and support for their wellbeing.

Effective benefits in this area of concern include health insurance and critical illness cover. To improve mental health, employers should consider offering sophisticated employee assistance programmes that provide extensive and expert counselling, behavioural therapy or support with personal problems.

Building a future-proof benefits programme

As we approach the end of severe coronavirus restrictions now is a good time for employers to review their benefits packages. We know that employees who feel more valued and believe their employer listens to them are far more likely to be productive and to stay in post longer. If employers are committed to staying in touch with what employees want, then they need good HR systems to maintain that all-important two-way dialogue. In the post-Covid economy, an organisation that offers genuinely attractive and relevant benefits will find it easier to attract the calibre of employee it wants.

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