What employees want: How to get the most value from a benefits offering

Need to know:

  • Surveys, exit interviews and benefits usage data are all constructive ways of finding out what staff appreciate, but employers should be aware that some valuable benefits might still fall by the wayside.
  • Eliciting feedback and suggestions from employees who have actively used less widely understood products, such as group risk benefits, can help gain a real insight into whether they are a good fit.
  • Just engaging in conversation around what employees want will go some way to helping them feel valued.

Considering the money employers plough into the assorted benefits they offer each year, it is not surprising that many want to know which are truly valued. Failing to understand this could lead to expensive benefits being invested in but not taken up, or businesses failing to offer packages that make a real difference.

A key element of any organisation’s benefits strategy, then, is putting in the time to find out what employees really want.

Taking requests

One of the best ways to find out what employees want is the traditional survey. Rachel Meadows, director of pensions and financial planning at Broadstone, says: “The best surveys don’t just ask staff to tick down a list of options, but instead try to drive further understanding into how they would rank these in terms of importance, or how much value they would add, and also offer some questions which give staff the freedom to put in their own words their own ideas and requests.

“Some of these can be quite weird and wonderful, and don’t always involve product spend. Putting in place working groups and roundtable discussions, and actively encouraging staff participation in them is a great way of improving engagement in the process, and of making sure that [employers] are receiving real and meaningful staff input.”

Surveys should also go beyond benefits, encouraging staff to think about what they really value in an employer, suggests Jack Curzon, consulting director at Thomsons Online Benefits. This can then help to define wider strategies.

Alternative sources

There are other ways employers might consider using to find out what staff want and need, particularly as surveys can only be carried out a limited number of times each year. “Benefits analytics can be instrumental, providing a snapshot of which benefits people are engaging with,” says Curzon. “Employers can then use this information to shape their strategy going forward, phasing out benefits that present a poor [return on investment], while increasing benefits in areas that show high engagement.”

Exit interviews can also be a useful source of information, says Joy Waugh, principal consultant at Zest Benefits, alongside feedback from those joining the business. “Employees are unlikely to leave [an employer] due to the lack of benefits, but it may be a deciding factor in the decision to join or leave,” she says.

“Conversely, a great benefits package will only retain employees temporarily if other elements of their working life are out of balance. [Departing employees] might feel they have the freedom to speak more freely, although close attention has to be paid to any other motivations that they may have.”

The value of benefits

Relying entirely on employees’ views can be a dangerous game, especially when it comes to insurance-related benefits, points out Katharine Moxham, spokesperson at Group Risk Development (Grid): “Employees don’t always fully appreciate the true value that financial security group risk benefits give, and often overlook their importance in favour of more immediate benefits.”

Looking at usage rates for employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or eliciting feedback from staff who have used the services of a group risk provider can be a useful barometer as to whether the right benefits, and providers, are in place.

Receiving feedback from employees that have used the benefits in question can help organisations to then reassess and make any necessary alterations, without worrying that the information is based on false preconceptions.

“Very often, these types of survey can identify a mismatch in what an employer perceives employees to value and what they actually want in practice,” says David Prosser, head of proposition development at The Health Insurance Group.

“If this is the case, then it is clearly important to act to close this gap.”

Simply engaging in this kind of exercise is likely to be beneficial, especially if followed up with relevant alterations, says Waugh: “The fact that the employer is asking [its] employees for input and feedback is often seen as important in its own right.”

Effective communication

“In some instances, employers may find that employees are not aware that certain benefits are available,” says Curzon.

“In this scenario, employers should consider how, when and what they’re communicating to employees to ensure their intended message is getting across.”

Not only should organisations be sure to promote benefits effectively, but they should also allow insight into strategic developments. “It’s important that employers explain the rationale behind changes that are made based on employee feedback, particularly when individuals’ benefits are withdrawn or changed,” says Waugh.

Even if asking employees what they want in their benefits packages leads to unrealistic or unfeasible suggestions, this could prove useful in the future. “Designing a great employee benefits strategy for a workforce isn’t a ‘shoot and forget’ exercise; it is an evolving beast,” explains Meadows. “Knowing that there are more things that employees would like to [receive] gives you a great opportunity to put together the beginnings of a longer-term strategy. [Employees] will understand and appreciate being involved in a long-term partnership to create a really valuable employee benefits package.”