With the New Year round the corner, Reward asked experts on what is expected for 2017 in the employee benefits space


The Autumn Statement by Chancellor Philip Hammond saw some changes to impact employee benefits. Yet, alongside these, are the general changes that are expected in the key areas for 2017 – looking at everything from technology and pensions to wellbeing. 


Reward asked industry experts on their predictions for 2017 and what to expect in the employee benefits space. Organised by topic areas, here’s what they had to say:


Technology – David Walker, chief commercial officer, Personal Group

“2016 – Brexit, US Elections, National Living Wage, Leicester City – it truly was a year of great change for everyone. For many organisations the focus was maintaining business as usual despite the challenges caused by the legal, political and economic uncertainty. So with a year of major change behind us, what do we think you can we expect from 2017?


“2017 will be all about productivity. We see companies focussing on employee happiness, driving up levels of employee engagement, and ultimately improving their overall productivity. Sure, there will be a focus on organisational effectiveness but we think 2017 is the year of the happy employee. Because happy employees are more productive. And because when people feel like they make a difference, they do.”


Health and wellbeing – Laura Matthews, workplace wellbeing consultant, Barnett Waddingham

“A key trend that will continue to increase within 2017 is the overarching employee wellness within the workplace. Companies are recognising that by increasing overall wellness within the workplace, it has a positive impact on insurance premiums, reduced absence and accidents in the workplace, increased productivity and higher attraction and retention.  


“Another key trend will be employers focusing on addressing employees’ financial wellness. It is well known that a ‘financially well’ employee if less likely to have sleepless nights, which impacts on presentism and even absenteeism within the workplace.  There is a range of topics which could affect employee financial wellness, from the uncertainty around the impact of Brexit on the economy and the pound, financial worries around debt, savings or investment.


“I believe that in 2017 there will be an increased focus on supporting employees’ eldercare needs from an employer perspective. According to Carers UK, one in nine workers in the UK care for a family member or friend who is older, disabled or ill. This will have significant impact on productivity within the workforce, with employees having to take last minute leave or even absence from work to care for family or relatives. I believe we will see an increase in awareness of “remote eldercare” whereby people will use technology solutions for monitoring and assisting older or vulnerable people to live more independently.”


Family benefits – Ben Black, director, My Family Care

“With the veritable “shocks” of 2016 still fresh in our collective memory - Brexit, Trump, animal fat in the new £5 notes - 2017 is set to be an interesting year.


“Firstly, and obviously, flexible working will become a bigger business, but not for obvious reasons. The 2017 debate will steer away from whether to allow flexible working or not, and focus purely on how to implement it. The best employers in the UK have cottoned on to this and are doing amazing things. But what about those companies who have yet to pull their heads out of the sand? Well, in 2017 and beyond, they’re likely to go the way of the dinosaurs as the battle for talent will be won or lost under the standard of flexible working.


“Secondly, technology will come on in leaps and bounds, making the lives of working parents and carers a whole host more manageable. We’ve already developed our new backup care booking app so parents can book emergency care at the touch of a button when their usual care breaks down.


“Likewise, talent retention will become more of a digital business. Retaining all those valuable parents going on parental leave will be made easier for employees as online platforms dominate the leave, during and return phases. It’ll become a normal part of the HR infrastructure and will give a whole new generation of parents the power to control their leave and the sureness of a confident return.”


Motivation and engagement – Bill Alexander, CEO and director, Red Letter Days

“There have been five key areas which have driven change in the way employees view recognition and reward in the latter half of the decade. Businesses should be looking for more personal, meaningful rewards, as the focus shifts away from cash and the occasional bottle of wine, towards a demand for more authentic, personal and meaningful rewards that focus on well-being, work-life balance, charitable and environmental health and unique one-off experiences that create memories which cannot be replicated.


“It is time to move away from the mundane and the ordinary and move towards specialised experiences which have been put together creatively, with your particular employees in mind. Consider what makes your employees stand out from others, are they young and fashion conscious, or are they discerning focused on the finer details? Use this information to invest in unique and authentic experiences, tailor-made just for them, something that they could not experience anywhere else and which will bring them together over a shared sense of excitement.


“Employers need to look at offering authentic bespoke experiences, wellness programmes, incentive travel and luxury products. Several studies have also shown a direct link between social responsibility and employee engagement, after all workers are bound to be more incentivised to work hard for a company which they can feel proud of. Why not give your staff the opportunity to take paid leave to conduct a charitable initiative your organisation supports – it can be as ambitious as sending a team to help build a home in impoverished areas or as simple as incentivising employees to reduce energy consumption. Once you begin to think of ways to tie incentives to social responsibility the possibilities will grow and grow.”


Group risk – John Dean, managing director, Punter Southall Health & Protection

With changes to the Lifetime Allowance in 2016, increasing numbers of employers are now considering setting up their Life Assurance policies in an Excepted Trust. In 2017 it will be important that companies consider what Trust best suits their business based on the different rules and taxation basis that applies. Employers need to make informed choices in this important area.


“We are seeing more employers considering providing benefits for their employees’ dependants as part of their protection benefits. For example, providing cover within Life Assurance policies so that an employee is covered in the event that their spouse or partner dies. In doing so, employee’s benefit from increased peace of mind and financial protection in the event of the loss of a loved one.


“The changes in State Sickness Benefits means that employers should look to redesign Income Protection policies so that they are more in line with the State Benefit provision. What is also clear is that many employees are in the dark as to what they are covered for in the event that they fall ill. They aren’t aware how long they will receive their benefits for and what percentage of salary they will receive. When offering valuable benefits, employers need to ensure that they are properly communicated and that employees understand what is provided.


“With wellbeing rising firmly up the corporate agenda, we are seeing more insurers adding wellbeing initiatives to their policies. For example, wearable fitness devices and health screenings for employees. The focus on increasing employees’ individual awareness of their own health and physical activity can have a positive impact on their overall wellbeing.”


Pensions – Darren Philp, director of policy and market engagement, The People’s Pension

'The Government has started early with its new year’s resolutions this year where pension saving is concerned. But where will the corks really be popping in 2017? The delivery of a prototype pensions dashboard in the Spring will be a really important first step in delivering a one stop digital stop for people's pension information. The introduction of improved regulation for master trusts will provide greater protection for savers, especially those saving into a pension for a first time through auto enrolment, and the 2017 review of auto-enrolment could see many more lower paid employees saving for later life.


“Perhaps the biggest potential hangover (for some at least) could be further changes to tax relief on pension savings. This is an area ripe for reform and the idea of shoring up the Treasury coffers could prove too seductive for the Government to ignore. One thing’s for sure..... We are in for another year of chop and change. Who ever thought pensions were boring?'


Looking at the predictions and expectations for 2017, it appears wellbeing will be a key focus. Reward predict this too and expect Wellbeing in the Workplace to be an event covering all these areas and more!


With all these changes expected for the New Year, the employee benefits space could change life as we know it. Stay tuned with Reward to keep up to date as the changes happen and learn how to deal with them.


Until then… Merry Christmas from all the team at Reward!