By Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director, MHR International
While rewards and benefits have generally been varied depending on workplace culture or personal preferences, the “classic” perks that were once commonplace among workplaces such as access to a company car and a discounted gym membership have now been joined by other incentives. It’s now not uncommon for businesses to send employees off for the weekend early on a Friday or offer them free drinks and snacks while in the office. Beyond this, more companies are now facilitating sabbatical leave, internal secondments, or dedicated days for staff to take part in a charitable cause.
While beneficial to staff wellbeing, it’s a delicate balance for businesses between improving employee happiness and keeping extra costs to a minimum. The unfortunate reality is that for many employees, a large percentage will fail to have a true appreciation of the value these benefits provide, particularly when they are a standard offering as opposed to being part of a flexible benefits package. This may be because it’s not tangible on a payslip, or where the value is clear, employees could even have a negative view of the benefits due to the extra tax incurred, even if this is less than the value of the benefit itself.
Covid has shone a spotlight on financial wellbeing and resilience
The key focus area for new benefits packages should revolve around financial resilience and wellbeing, and the stats show that it’s something that organisations need to take seriously. Employers are losing 2.5 days per employee per year through financial stress-related absences, although this number could be much higher as recent MHR research found that 47% of employees believe being honest about their mental health would damage their career.
Short-term help might be required for employees to better understand how to manage their money and 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.
Addressing benefits packages
It would be dangerous for employers to make the assumption that their staff are completely happy with the benefits packages at their company. A comprehensive IBM survey, which gathered the thoughts of 19,000 workers across nine countries in January, found that only 47 per cent rated their employer well for their compensation and benefits package.
As we move into a post-pandemic world, businesses need to review their current benefits packages and decipher whether they still meet the expectations of staff. Employers who continue to invest in benefits that employees don’t use or value are wasting their money.
For example, hybrid working arrangements might make the prospect of subsidised gym membership less appealing as employees spend more time away from the office. Additionally, 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 are looking for meaningful rewards that truly benefit them, and they’ll be more attracted to an employer that goes out of its way to discover 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.
Adopting a holistic approach and taking employee wellbeing into account
A holistic approach is crucial for businesses reviewing their benefits packages, with a requirement to review areas that impact the 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. 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.
To better match these demands, the focus needs to be on areas such as critical illness cover and comprehensive health insurance. 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.
Securing benefits programmes in the long-term
As we emerge from the pandemic and into the new world of work, employers need to analyse their current benefits packages. Valued employees are much more likely to stay in their job longer and be more productive in their day-to-day tasks. If employers are serious about keeping up-to-date with the needs of their staff, implementing effective HR systems is key to enabling and recording that dialogue. Genuinely attractive benefits will be core to attracting the right employees into roles in a post-Covid world.