How can a benefits strategy support the employee experience?

employee experience

Need to know: 

  • In a world where work and life boundaries are blurring, employees are expecting more from their working lives. A great employee experience is more important than ever. 
  • Today, workers are looking for more authentic organisations with clear sets of principles. Feeling a sense of purpose is increasingly integral to today’s employee experience.
  • Employers are still playing catch-up, but technology means they can get to know their workers better than ever before and offer a more personalised benefits experience.

In the past, most people left their work in the office at the end of the day and an ’employee experience’ might have meant a team-building day out. In the modern workplace, employee experience is evolving into a far broader concept. But how can an HR team make sure that their benefits package underpins a great employee experience?

‘Employee experience’ sounds like a nebulous term, but it does not have to be. Kavish Patel, people director at investment consultancy Redington, says: “The employee experience is about what people feel from end to end: how they are treated and how they feel as a result.”

Peter Meyler, head of Barnett Waddingham’s workplace consultancy, adds: “Organisations are starting to realise is that a lot of what they do from an employment and employability perspective is starting to need to change, because what people are looking for from employment is changing as well. A lot of what their focus is on is, ‘Do I want to work for an organisation that shares similar principles and values to me and if I can see that in an employer, that is more likely going to be the employer I choose to work for’.”

Authenticity is also becoming much more important to the workers of today, so fairness and transparency around an organisation’s reward package are key. “Organisations need to stand out if they want to attract and retain the best people,” explains Meyler. “But first of all, [employers] have to be clear about their own strategy and objectives internally before they talk about it externally. If an employer promotes itself as a certain type of organisation externally but employees do not feel that in the way they are treated internally, they will hold that organisation to account.”

Economic challenges
Economic challenges mean that employees and employers expect more of each other than ever before. In uncertain economic times, it also becomes more important for organisations to hold onto their best people. This all means that making employees feel valued is more and more important.

Technology is further complicating matters. The advent of artificial intelligence is making many employees feel nervous about the relevance of their roles in tomorrow’s economy. Meanwhile, smartphones are blurring the traditional boundaries between work and life. Jeanette Makings, head of financial education services at Close Brothers, says: “People are subject to more pressures; we know there’s a lot of talk about wellbeing, stress, constantly being on and connected which is potentially affecting the way people work and their working arrangements. That is impacting stress levels.”

Another challenge is changing demographics. UK workforces are increasingly intergenerational, from school leavers through to people working into their 70s and 80s.

Three in 10 employees in developed economies expect to work to age 70 or beyond, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. Employers are seeing high levels of turnover, resulting from senior members of staff working later, so that people in their 30s and 40s feel forced to leave in pursuit of their next opportunity.

In this period of business change, it is vital to keep employees feeling positive and engaged. After all, wellbeing and productivity are closely linked.

Transforming the employee experience
Most employers are in the early stages of using benefits to create a great employee experience. Technology can help in two ways. First, it makes gathering data easier. This makes analysing a workforce and establishing their particular challenges more straightforward.This is the missing link for many organisations, says Meyler, who previously worked for a high street department store. “One of the things that fascinated me was how much we knew about our customers: who they were, where they shopped, how they liked to make purchases and interact with us,” he explains. But we knew so much less about the people who work for us.

“When you think about employee benefits, what organisations really need to understand is more about the industry and what they do outside of work as much as inside of work. What are their interests, hobbies, what are they involved in?”

Change is already happening in this area, says Makings. “Big data segmentation is helping employers to understand workforces better,” she explains. AAs a result of that understanding, they are trying to spend their benefits pounds more wisely. They are looking to make sure their benefits match employees’ needs and desires, putting in place benefits that are essential for financial health but also making sure that discretionary benefits match what employees want and reflect workforce demographics.

“We worked with an employer recently which has gone through a holistic benefits review and stopped benefits that weren’t being taken up. Using those pounds on benefits that can reach a wider demographic will be much more beneficial.”

Second, technology makes it easier for staff to personalise their benefits. Dipa Mistry Kandola, head of flexible benefits services at consultancy LC~P, says: “Historically, benefits have been very shouty; ‘I’m a great employer, here are the benefits I offer you.’ Now it’s ‘Here’s this piece of tech you can have on your phone and personalise according to your own goals’. For instance, some people might be trying to lead a healthier lifestyle whereas others might be trying to save money.

“The technology is there now, it has really come forward in the last 12 months and there is a real desire for employers to transform the employee experience. The bridge between the technology and the employee experience hasn’t been built quite yet, mostly due to cost and time issues. But if I think back to when my career started, technology was historically Excel-based and over the next three years we will see those bridges built.”

Creating a better employee experience does not always mean overhauling an organisation’s benefits technology. Incremental changes can make a big difference.

For instance, when trying to appeal to different sections of the workforce, consider their priorities. “Some ethnic groups are passionate about looking after their elders and in some cases, financially assisting them,” explains Meyler. “They may work in this country, but they are sending money home. Could you offer a benefit that makes things like money transfer really seamless and affordable?”

Small, but carefully tailored, changes, such as these can prove to be extremely powerful when it comes to creating an organisation’s desired employee experience.