Need to know:
- There should be seamless integration between discounts schemes and online benefits platforms such that additional usernames and passwords are not required.
- Employers should make sure that the benefits, HR and internal communications teams are on the same page by ensuring all stakeholders know how to direct employees to the benefits platform for information.
- Consistent communication about the platform and the benefits available to employees means that staff will build up recognition over time.
Online benefits platforms, such as flexible benefits where employees can choose the perks best suited to their lifestyle, or voluntary benefit programmes with retail and leisure discounts, can be a big expense for employers. As a result, they will want to make sure that their platforms are being extensively used, so how can benefits platforms appear more appealing to staff than publically available deals?
Benefits platforms are often marketed as a one-stop-shop, allowing organisations to reap the rewards in improved employee experience and engagement scores. But, lines between employer-provided schemes and widely-available discount websites or high street deals can become blurred, leading to low take up rates. Charlotte Godley, head of proposition at Benefex, explains that most programmes will include a discounts or voluntary benefits module alongside payroll-deducted employee benefits because they offer employees the opportunity to purchase goods and services at a reduced cost.
“Employer-provided discount schemes will often offer a more varied range of discounts, and if communicated well as part of a wider benefits strategy, will support engagement and employees’ financial wellbeing. More recently, we have seen providers enhance their offering to support employees working from home by extending their schemes to also offer additional modules such as access to online learning, physical activity and mental health support,” she says.
Highlighting specific benefits at certain life-cycle points when employees will be thinking about making a purchase is likely to be effective. Kiarna Tarr, senior communication consultant at Like Minds, suggests building up recognition with the platform by consistently signposting the site, using clear visuals and call to actions such as e-cards and banners. “Explain the relevance to an individual’s life and why they’ll be beneficial to them. Make sure that the benefits, HR and internal communications teams are on the same page by ensuring all stakeholders know how to direct employees to the benefits platform for information. Think about what would really make them use it and importantly, what would make them talk about it to their colleagues, friends and family,” she says.
Employers that reach members of staff by placing messages about their portal at their office locations, on internal newsletters and by email are the ones that see the highest rate of interaction.
Ben Francis, people operations director at Xexec, comments that one of the major engagement activities he has seen be effective is giveaways and competitions. “When employers give something tangible to staff which is redeemed through the platform, we typically see dramatic increases in awareness and usage. Recent examples of successes here have been multivitamins, shopping e-vouchers and subscriptions to online services,” he says.
Communicating benefits platforms
It is important that employees understand how discounts scheme align to the broader business and benefits strategy, as these schemes can support financial, physical and mental wellbeing as well as diversity, inclusion and sustainability.
Communications which highlight offers alongside other initiatives can work well as a part of a holistic communications strategy, rather than having a separate messages for different areas of benefits and reward. Godley says: “For example, when communicating about pensions, include other details on other benefits that support financial wellbeing such as life assurance, will writing and discounts. Where discounts schemes are offered alongside an online benefits platform, there should be seamless integration between the two platforms such that additional usernames and passwords are not required.”
One of the key challenges is actually making staff aware of the platform and the rewards they have, says Jason Green, head of research at Benefits Guru. “Employers need to give employees a reason to use the platform and keep returning. This could be done by having monthly prize draws, using the platform to book holiday or introducing a social media element where people can discuss common topics, or join clubs or forums,” he adds.
Consistently communicating about the platform and the benefits available to employees using nudge techniques means that although messages are repeated often, staff will over time build up recognition.
“Include comparisons in the communications and be open about market prices versus the company discounts,” says Tarr. “Modellers or calculators can be an effective way to show how the benefits could save an employee money. Deals and discounts can be a great hook to introduce employees to other benefits they might not have taken up before, such as saying ‘Enjoying your new bike? Have you thought about extra holiday days to make the most of using it in the summer?’”
Regularly highlighting benefits platforms at key stages throughout the year can help to increase awareness and ensure the organisation sees a return on investment through increased participation and employee engagement.