Need to know:
- Maximum choice should be offered to employees for how they interact with their benefits, but employers also need to consider what specific features will best suit their workforces.
- If the aim of implementing benefits technology is to fit with an increasingly digital world, communications about a new platform should take this into account, too.
- Benefits technology should be part of a wider approach to creating a positive employee experience at work, rather than a quick fix.
In today’s permanently online world, the idea of form-filling to receive benefits is a non-starter, and employees increasingly expect to be able to select their preferences through an interactive and mobile-optimised interface.
Indeed, Human to hybrid, published by Capita People Solutions in March 2019, found that employees expect the same digital experience at work as they do at home.
Charlotte Godley, director, flexible benefits strategy and consulting at Capita People Solutions, says: “This means being able to find what they need as quickly and easily as possible, being treated as an individual and being offered personalised benefits, having a sense of being in control and enjoying a seamless, easy, engaging experience across different channels.”
However, fulfilling these expectations alone will not ensure that a new benefits portal is picked up enthusiastically by staff. Employers must also select the right solution to suit their business, and invest in sufficient promotional work.
Addressing employee expectations is one thing, but technology solutions must not lose sight of the practical side of delivering benefits across a workforce; for example, consideration needs to be given to office locations, demographics and career types.
“If an [employer] has bases in different parts of the world, the platform needs to offer the same look, feel and experience, yet be able to adapt to different benefit provisions,” says Dom Manley, UK technology product owner at Aon. “On top of this, a platform needs to be flexible and robust; it’s about due diligence in systems and integration with others.”
This factor might guide the employer in its selection of whether to go with a mobile-web platform interface or a dedicated app. Craig Williams, managing director of Broadstone, says that his organisation decided to use a web-enabled solution, rather than app-based, as this would deliver full functionality and integration.
Williams notes that apps can sometimes be more simplified, while a web interface has the added benefit of coming pre-loaded on every device, and therefore does not require extra steps for set-up, clearing the path for employee engagement.
Homing in on what works best for a specific organisation is important, but Manley argues that this might mean missing a trick, particularly as choice and personalisation are increasingly desirable.
“The fact is, a modern platform should have an app equivalent,” says Manley. “Employees can then engage in a way that’s best for them, and it will have native features that can’t be delivered by a mobile responsive site.
“This is about breaking down barriers, ease of use, including providing push notifications as well as finger print, facial recognition and camera, which [employers will] only get in a native app. It’s about opening up opportunities and communications in the best way for people’s needs.”
Providing benefits technology that allows for multiple access routes, then, helps the end user engage, which fits with the push to use lessons from consumer markets to shape the employee experience.
If an individual can switch from their preferred method of online shopping, for example, to picking their benefits, with as little change to their experience as possible, a platform is more likely to become part of their everyday life.
Communicate in kind
Benefits platforms take advantage of the fact that this is an increasingly digital world, by reaching employees where they are: their devices. The same logic should be used when communicating about a new programme.
While using diverse methods of communication, which might include face-to-face conversations, email campaigns or desk drops, is often advisable as a catch-all approach, employers should remember the reason a platform is being brought in in the first place. If the goal is to engage employees via the media they use most regularly, this should be factored into promotion strategies.
“Providing access via mobile devices definitely presents an opportunity for the employer to increase engagement just by communicating out to employees that it’s available,” Godley says. “If everyone in a workforce has a mobile device, a good approach is to use SMS messages; they’re very easy to send and can have more impact than emails because they don’t get lost in people’s inboxes.”
Making benefits platforms user-friendly, easily accessible and aligned with the specific needs and tastes of an employee base are all important steps to facilitating as much engagement as possible.
However, a new initiative is unlikely to become part of the fabric of the employee experience unless it is promoted by those shaping an organisation’s culture.
Tom O’Connor, enterprise customer success director at Perkbox, says: “A successful launch requires genuine commitment from leadership within the business, and a willingness to clearly schedule time and put in effort to create an environment where employees feel supported.”
In turn, introducing an exciting new piece of technology is not enough, in itself, to create employee satisfaction; it should be part of an overall strategy.
“Any employee benefits platform should be combined with a great [organisational] culture, fair pay, open communication and transparency,” O’Connor explains. “What’s more, the focus should no longer be employee engagement, it should be the overall employee experience, both inside and outside of work.”
Certainly, the technology exists to deliver comprehensive benefits choices to an employee’s fingertips, but any interface is only going to be as strong as the provision on which it is built.