How can benefits technology be used to meet employee expectations in 2021?

Need to know:

  • Data drawn from employee benefits platforms, HR systems and apps can provide valuable insight into how well benefits are working.
  • Tracking data and employee views over a period of time can help to identify shifts in requirements.
  • Technology is helping to shape strategy in areas such as health and wellbeing.

Data and technology are playing an increasingly important role in setting strategies for many business operations, and the employee benefits space is no exception. Andrew Drake, client development director at Buck, says: “HR technology, employee data, and a strong management information system are all vital to ensuring the benefits proposition is valued by staff. Employers can also gather large volumes of opinions and feedback from methods such as staff surveys to measure sentiment towards the current benefits proposition, as well as their perception of the organisation and how they feel about work in general.” Data from apps can also help benefits professionals understand what staff want, he adds, particularly through self-assessment wellbeing tools.

Analysis of flexible benefit platforms, in particular, can provide a wealth of information around both behaviour and employee appreciation. “Where platform design and content are demonstrated to have provided positive results then the reason behind this can be analysed with a view to replication,” says Craig Williams, director of employee benefits at Broadstone. “Where unexpected or undesired outcomes are evidenced then platform content, page orders, processes and even benefits themselves can and should be reviewed.”

Valuable data

In the current climate, where many employees are not based in offices, such insight can help organisations stay on top of changes in employees’ requirements. “Ideally this would be through a combination of asking for feedback and monitoring user behaviour,” says Duncan Casemore, chief technology officer (CTO) and co-founder of Applaud. “For example, [employers] can collect real-time feedback in any technology system by asking for a star rating in conjunction with a free text comment. Then, [they] can use this combination of qualitative and quantitative data to pull out key trends. If people are talking negatively about the fact that they can’t sell back their holiday days in spite of all the travel bans, that may be an emerging trend that we can see impacting the overall rating.”

Another technique is to regularly ask staff what is important to them at that moment in time; something Clear Review uses with its own staff. “They select from a list of items like better work-life balance, more recognition for contributions, or more responsibility,” says Stuart Hearn, CEO. “We keep the list fairly consistent so that we can get an accurate insight into changes in employee expectations over time, by department, manager and for the whole organisation. This helps us to understand where we need to focus as an employer.”

Simply identifying what employees are engaging with on technology platforms and comparing this to previous patterns can also help to detect changing priorities. James Knight, SVP data and analytics at Darwin, gives the example of organisations noticing more people searching for stress-relieving benefits during the first national lockdown. “HR teams with the right benefits technology were able to see these changes as they happened, pivot their strategies and divert spend into benefits that support mental health,” he says. “This might mean adopting mental wellbeing platforms such as Unmind or extending access to virtual meditation classes and counselling services.”

Shaping strategies

This kind of management information can also be amplified by providers on a much bigger scale to identify wider trends. “We can take the data from each of our platforms and analyse how it differs between age groups, locations, industry and even providers so that we can make informed conclusions on the effectiveness of the benefits employees are most engaged with,” points out Daniel McCann, technology proposition lead at Premier. “The use of ‘big data’ in this way can help shape benefits strategies and employee communications in a more intelligent way.”

The technology itself will always continue to evolve. This year has seen a focus on employee health in response to the pandemic, says Gary Butterfield, co-founder and executive director at Everyday Juice Limited, with data analytics helping firms to shape their strategy and offering. “We have seen a shift in the number of organisations going beyond the offer of a gym membership or health insurance, and looking at benefits which are more suited to the support employees need right now,” he says.

This is also extending to using technology to help identify how employees are feeling. “The classic employee listening process – typically a survey with a range of questions – can be limited when it comes to true insights,” says Jeff Fox, principal at Aon. “More than any year, it will be crucial for employers to get a good handle on what employees really need from their benefits package. Technology that can get to the heart of the matter will be key.”

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