When it comes to workplace benefits, today’s employee expects choice and accessibility – and the technology is there to make it happen
In today’s multi-generational workforce, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a benefits package. Flexible benefits are the way of meeting the needs of most staff while engaging a workforce that will vary widely in terms of needs, lifestyles, family stage as well as age, salary and disposable income.
Employers must remember we are now living in an unprecedented age of consumerism where the idea of an inflexible and staid benefits package is no longer relevant, especially for the youngest members of the workforce.
Thanks to today’s benefits portals technology, flexible benefits can be made accessible on a 24/7 basis on any device. The advantage is staff are able to see the real-time value of the benefits they can access, discuss choices and decisions with partners and family, and remain constantly engaged with the employer offering.
So what can companies offer via flex? It ranges from the traditional to the unusual:
- Traditional benefits: pension, holidays, life insurance, PMI, critical illness
- Lifestyle benefits: childcare vouchers, retail vouchers, bikes to work
- Health benefits: gym discounts, health assessments, body scans, preventative screening for cancers and other conditions
- Technology benefits: laptops, mobile phones
- The unusual benefits: car breakdown cover, carbon offsetting, boiler breakdown, elderly dependent care.
As the rules around salary sacrifice change this year, employers may consider net pay deducted flex schemes to mitigate making changes to contractual salary. This might in turn lead to employers increasing the frequency of the enrolment periods and focusing on what employees might be considering at any given point during the year.
For example, in January people will think about gym memberships or booking a holiday, but as spring approaches they may consider enrolling in a cycle-to-work scheme. We have already seen a number of requests from clients about ‘anytime benefits’.
What’s in it for the employer?
As well as streamlining and harmonising benefits, flexible benefits provision means a more engaged workforce, and engaged workforces are likely to be up to 18% more productive (Gallup), energised and more loyal – leading to reduced employer costs in recruitment and retention, as well as an improved company ‘brand’ as being a great place to work.
With the technology and data available, employers have an excellent opportunity to better understand their workforce and capture what works, for whom and when.
The data insights also improve communications: the ability to target specific profiles with relevant information, or send nudges throughout the year is not only likely to increase engagement but also take up, creating a solid return on investment from the benefits spend.
The future of flex
So why now? With talent management and retention as a top five concern for employers, flexible benefits provision can help, particularly as new benefits become flex-friendly.
In the immediate term, with rules around salary sacrifice updated in April to remove some of the advantages of excepted group life assurance schemes and group income protection schemes, employers may wish to talk to their advisers about an amendment to their scheme design.
Technological innovation is also driving changes, such as the ability for the workforce to interact with their benefits at any time, all year round and the employer’s ability to communicate with staff about the benefit package, making this a prime time to invest.
As the workforce is increasingly varied in age group and demographic, it’s not just the younger, more consumerist employees who will want a varied flex benefit scheme, and employers should think about how flex can help their entire workforce.
For example, eldercare provision for the rising sandwich generation, or protection and security benefits for those reaching retirement age but having to work longer. Through flex, employers could help to allay concerns about care and/or old age.
If you’re ticking the boxes of retention, engagement and ease of communication, flexible benefits are the way forward, providing a different but necessary solution for each company.