Regardless of their location, size or industry, most businesses have a benefits package in place for their employees. Whether it’s a standard mix of pensions, expenses and holiday entitlement or an elaborate portfolio with lots of bells-and-whistles, all employees will receive some type of benefit. Article by James Malia, Director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services.
Even so, employee engagement remains low for many organisations, which suggests that ineffective benefits may be a waste of resource. So, as an HR professional or employer, how do you know if your benefit offering is any good? And how often should you be reviewing it?
Looking at the figures
By monitoring benefit uptake, the HR department can establish which employees are pursuing which benefits and how they are engaging with them. This in turn can indicate what other benefits and wider workplace perks could be implemented to enhance the lives of a particular demographic or group.
Crucially, this information should be reviewed regularly – rather than once a year – and must be considered from the perspective of both the employee and employer. For the employee, it is important to have benefits that are both desired and appreciated, as this will help to ensure the overall attractiveness of the workplace. For the employer, this information will prevent resource and finances being wasted on disinterested employees and poorly selected benefit options.
To get this right, HR managers need to use a blend of anonymous feedback surveys, regular conversations and in-depth discussions about the wants and needs of different groups and demographics. With 50% of the UK workforce consisting of millennials by 2020, the demographics in employment are changing and broadening all the time. Expectations for what different employees require will therefore vary enormously, so any benefits selected must be relevant for several different demographics.
It’s not just about demographics, though; it is also about the stage of life. Although two employees might both be 30 years old and female, they could be at very different stages of their lives; one may be buying her first home and getting married, whereas another may be starting a family or looking after elderly parents. By regularly reviewing their benefits packages, HR managers will be able to assess whether they are providing the benefits that can support these differences and achieve greater employee engagement.
What does ‘great’ look like?
Significant sums of money are often invested in to benefits packages, whether in the benefits themselves or in the resource and organisation of implementing and sustaining the scheme. However, more doesn’t always mean better. A great scheme will include a high level of employee uptake and engagement with the benefits on offer. After all, an employer can choose to offer big ticket options, but if no one is using these benefits, employees won’t gain anything from the scheme. In fact, it’s often the smaller benefits that help with people’s everyday spending that are most valued, such as childcare vouchers and cycle-to-work schemes.
To make the most of these schemes, any information collected about the uptake of employee benefits needs to be reviewed by HR and assessed as part of a long-term benefits strategy. Certain benefits need a great deal longer to plan, both logistically and financially, such as private medical and childcare vouchers. Other benefits, such as holiday and flexible working solutions, and employee perks can be more quickly addressed.
Don’t shoot the messenger
It might seem obvious, but one of the biggest barriers to engagement and uptake of benefits is lack of knowledge, with employees simply not knowing what is available to them. Solving this problem requires more than sending out the occasional email blast out to employees; it takes a well thought through and executed communications plan to make sure that employees are fully aware of their benefits, especially if any changes are made.
It is also important to consider who is communicating these changes. Any changes and updates should be communicated from the top down, not just from HR, to ensure that employees feel valued and appreciated by management. Above all else, benefits should be implemented to improve the quality of life of employees. In order to achieve this goal, however, these schemes need to be regularly reviewed and updated. Unless businesses are willing to commit to this, they risk wasting time and money on benefits that staff don’t use, want, or even know about.