Employee benefits: Does the boss really know best?

Matthew Gregson
Pennywell Farm Hosts Traditional Nativity
Not there for the nativity: One fifth of parents have missed an important moment in their child's life due to work, according to research by Coople (Source: Getty)

The business and economic landscape is in flux, and is likely to remain so for some time. With this uncertainty, there’s a danger that employee morale, motivation and engagement will suffer – adding to the already substantial challenge of sustaining business growth.

The type of employee benefits a company provides, and how they are offered, has changed dramatically over recent years, and will only continue to evolve at speed. However, employers looking to create a benefits strategy with longevity would do well to start with the question: what do my employees really want?

Making staff feel heard, understood and valued will be critical to keeping them engaged, and benefits can play a significant role in this. So how can bosses ensure that their offerings hit the mark?

Personalisation makes perfect

Every employee is different and they want their individuality recognised. This is driving the trend for personalisation across all areas of the employer–employee relationship, including rewards.

Over the last two to three years, companies have increasingly turned to technology and data analytics to deliver bespoke benefits to staff. This is a valuable first step, but requires further analysis to answer vital questions on what employees would really like to see in their packages.

Layering a consultative approach on top of this data insight is therefore critical in understanding employees’ lifestyles, priorities and goals, and providing perks to match.

Money can’t buy everything

The benefits which make a real impact on employees are the ones money simply can’t buy – the opportunity to work on a “time-bank” system, for example.

This allows employees to choose how they distribute work throughout the week, enabling them to fit their work-lives around personal commitments.

Read more: UK employees complain they aren't getting enough perks

Increasing flexibility in this way can significantly improve employees’ personal happiness. Research in July by job app Coople indicated that one fifth of parents have missed an important moment in their child’s life due to work. This is significant problem, diminishing parents’ quality of life in two ways – they miss important family events and often feel guilty as a result.

Forward-thinking companies are taking this common problem as an opportunity by offering a range of solutions from onsite creches to child travel facilities. These improve parents’ wellbeing and arguably loyalty to their employer.

Why go to the trouble?

A well thought-out reward strategy will improve employees’ general wellness and increase their engagement with their benefits offering.

If they log on and interact with their scheme more regularly, they will be more likely to understand the value of their total benefits package – something 57 per cent of employers view as their main challenge, according to our Global Employee Benefits Watch 2015 study. Similarly, they’re more likely to recognise the effort their employer has taken to understand them at important life moments and meet their personalised requirements.

Read more: Should employers cutting perks because of NLW be blamed?

It’s a positive cycle that improves employee satisfaction and encourages the discretionary effort that drives business productivity.

Cost is also a factor. Benefits are expensive, equating to 11 per cent of employee salary in the UK, according to our analysis of existing client spend. Employers need to ascertain what benefits their people really want, to be sure that they’re spending in the right places and will see the best possible return on their investment.

Choice and flexibility are key

No matter which way you look at it, choice and flexibility are central to a successful benefits strategy.

Read more: These are the 20 best employee perks on earth

It is for this reason that an increasing number of companies transition towards benefits allowance-style systems, which let staff spend their benefits funding on whatever they choose, delivering the ultimate level of personalisation that employees now require.