A flexible benefits platform, complete with healthcare, can engage an entire multi-generational workforce, says Meesha Birch, employer & intermediary marketing manager at Simplyhealth


What do HR goals exist to do? Every organisation will have its own HR objectives according to company needs – but most, broadly speaking, will have the same aims around their people management piece.

For some it will be the challenges of absence, for others people management aims are focussed on the recruitment and retention of the right people as their companies expand and grow. It could be performance management, or employer duty of care that drives HR strategy.

Whichever of these goals are central to organisational strategy, employee engagement is the key to successfully dealing with people management: whether in recruitment, retention, absence, or performance issues.

So what is today’s main challenge in engaging with employees?

A broad demographic

Many UK employers are now faced with a multi-generational workforce: in some cases with employees aged from 16 to those over-70. And alongside this wide range of ages, there is a considerable range of reasons that people are in work.

You might have younger generation employees with a lot of university-based debt, financial concerns or who want to get on the property ladder, or perhaps a ‘sandwich generation’ employee who is struggling to balance work and life as they care for their children and their elderly relatives. Equally, you might also have someone in their 70s who has decided not to retire simply because their job is important to their everyday lives. Add into that mix an employee suffering from a long-term ill health issue.

There are now four generations in the workplace at the same time. In 2012 just over 9% of the workforce was aged over 65, and by 2027 that proportion is expected to rise to 15%.

So how, as an organisation, do you manage the hard-hitting issues you need to focus on – such as absence management, recruitment, retention and so on – with the constantly changing needs of a constantly changing workforce?

Many companies are now facing the challenge of an ageing workforce. And this is where flexible benefits come in: balancing the multi-generational workforce with the needs engendered by the bottom line and company performance.

A flexible offering

The beauty of flexible benefits is just that – they’re flexible to suit all! There are three approaches employers could take:

  • Voluntary benefits: benefits that are offered to employees but not contributed to by employers
  • Salary sacrifice benefits: benefits that are offered to employees at a discounted or preferential rate via giving up pay and making some tax and national insurance savings
  • Company-paid benefits: benefits that are offered to employees and paid for by the employer.

Which approach to follow is up to the company: but where to start? For many employers, it is about balancing what employees want and what problems the organisation is trying to fix – aligned with company objectives.

A simple employee survey can find out what employees are and aren’t interested in: but this has to be matched with the issues that exist in the company.

If you’re in a business that sees a lot of absence, or musculoskeletal issues, you have to know what those issues are, and be forward thinking about what steps you must put in place to tackle them.

When your people are saying they’re off sick for a particular reason, give them the healthcare that deals with that health issue. It enables the line manager to have the conversation with staff about the support mechanisms that are in place, and shows that the employer has done everything they can to support their employees – placing the responsibility with them to get the treatment that they need.

Over half (60%) of employees see health and wellbeing benefits as one of the top 3 most appealing employee benefits, while health cash plans offered through a flexible benefits package are set to grow by nearly 55% in 2016.

Flex helps enormously here: lifestyle benefits revolving around health may not be relevant for every member of staff due to age or life stage. As a 16 year old just joining the workforce, do they care about their health as a priority? A flexible platform allows employers to offer staff the right benefits for them to pick and choose from.

The engagement enigma

So flexible benefits can help employers meet their employees’ needs while also dealing with any issues affecting business productivity – as long as staff engage.

Statistics reveal, however, that on average employees only spend seven minutes per year examining and choosing what flexible benefits they want. It is something we are all guilty of: if we are offered benefits we are most likely to only focus on those things that directly impact our salary – our pension, for example.

This causes a separate issue to the problems of a multi-generational workforce: the question of how you can encourage employees to engage with their benefits, take the time to look at what they have on offer, and choose the right benefits that are suitable for their lifestyle.

Just putting up a poster or sending out an email simply does not cut the mustard.

What is really required is people on the ground in businesses – whether HR managers, line managers or reward champions – demonstrating practically why the benefits are good for employees, and how they can help them improve their lifestyle.

The responsibility to engage employees is everyone’s – which is an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to deliver.

There must be good reasons and solid strategic thought behind a flexible benefits strategy in the first place, relating to both business goals and employee needs: and when those are clear, and in place, they must be communicated outside of the HR department.

In reality, however, everyone gets caught up in their day jobs, and don’t tend to focus on the more general employee messages that need to be spread. For many HR and reward teams there is also a time demand issue. How much time are they spending discussing benefits with employees when dealing with things like company restructuring, disciplinary issues, recruitment and even payroll in some cases? Communicating benefits falls down the list of priorities.

All is not lost. For one thing, benefit suppliers can help – they know all the ins and outs of their benefits! Simplyhealth has a specialist worksite team, for example, whose job is to go in to workplaces and explain to employees why health cash plans are important, how they help in everyday life and the difference they can make to people.

The technology aspect of flexible benefits is also a huge boon – we all live in a mobile generation, and accessing things quickly is a key bonus, and draw, to employees. Technology is traditionally a younger generation wish – but it’s a cross-generational benefit.

It can not only engage employees, but also aid the company’s performance-based goals. Employees can log in, get instant access to their benefits, choose what they need, and get it in days rather than over a longer period of time.

It is particularly impactful on things like work-life balance benefits and healthcare: getting instant resolution to certain problems in your lifestyle means that you are not bringing your personal problems into work, or not absent for long periods of time while waiting to see a doctor on the NHS, when through a health cash plan you can have a phone or web chat with a GP within 24 hours.

Offering such benefits with such an easy level of access can help the individual, but also tackles any absence issues the employer has whilst helping to keep employees in work and productive.

But more than that, offering an employee the opportunity to pick and choose the benefits that impact their lifestyles makes them more engaged with the company – and is ultimately a tool for long-term retention. The message now just needs to be communicated to the whole workforce.

To help you build a business case, download Simplyhealth’s white paper about managing a multi-generational workforce at www.simplyhealth.co.uk/flexiblebenefits

To find out more about introducing a health cash plan, visit www.simplyhealth.co.uk/flexbens

Simplyhealth are exhibiting at Reward Live on Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 May, at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham. To find out more, CLICK HERE