How employee feedback can inform a benefits strategy

Need to know:

  • When gathering feedback, striking a balance between anonymity and usefulness of the data is key, as is being transparent with how this balance is achieved with employees.
  • Whichever feedback method is used, questions must reflect the workforce, based on all segments of the demographic, but also on their working patterns, caring responsibilities and living arrangements.
  • Tech platforms and channels enable employees to share their thoughts about their employee experience, including benefits, at any time, providing a continual source of valuable feedback.

When it comes to employee engagement, retention and performance, the employee benefits package plays a crucial role. The key to ensuring that the benefits offering is attractive, fair and relevant is securing regular feedback from employees.

Eman Al-Hillawi, CEO of business change consultancy Entec Si, says: “Collating employee feedback on benefits strategies can be done via several methods including surveys, focus groups, one-to-one sessions, workshops, anonymous surveys or exit interviews. This provides staff with an option they feel most comfortable with and ensures all opinions are captured.” But are these methods still effective?

Employee insight

Employee surveys are still considered an excellent way of assessing employee sentiment, but as Sam Lathey, CEO of financial wellbeing platform Bippit points out, it is important to have some guardrails in place.

“Employers must strike a balance between anonymity and usefulness, and share the mechanics of this balance openly with staff,” he says. “People need to feel safe to answer questions honestly. It is essential to be able to gain insight from the data. Often this means viewing it in aggregate at the team level or cohort level. If certain teams or cohorts are very small and [the employer] can’t guarantee anonymity, this is something [they] need to acknowledge.”

The real key to effective employee surveys is asking the right questions. These can include demographic questions, not just based on gender and age banding, but on living arrangements, caring responsibilities, length of service, salary and working arrangements, for example, at home, hybrid, in the office. “This allows the organisation to compare their profile with the data collected and then target benefit spend, interventions and support,” says Emma Capper, UK wellbeing leader at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing.

Survey design

When it comes to designing the survey, Capper’s advice is to consider the number of questions; too many will put people off, and too few will not give enough valuable data, and to offer options rather than free text where possible.

She says: “Adding a few free text questions to get people’s thoughts is a good idea and include different kinds of questions, including ranking questions, scale-based questions, multiple choice and table-based questions. Don’t ask a question about something the [organisation] isn’t prepared to solve the issue of, and always explain the terminology and the benefits employees are being asked about as not everyone will be familiar with all the benefits and this can skew the results if it isn’t clear.”

One of the challenges of getting useful feedback can be a lack of awareness among employees of what benefits are available. As a result, organisations tend to get more meaningful data when they ask questions relating more to culture and behaviours, rather than specific benefits, says Chris Andrew, head of Caburn Hope. “Rather than asking ‘Do you value life assurance?’, employers can ask questions more focused around the relative value people place on health versus time off versus financial wellbeing,” he says.

Multi-channel approach

Technology is enabling a more active approach to employee listening, providing employees with opportunities to share their thoughts at any time via platforms and channels that can measure and analyse sentiment. “This provides leadership, HR and communications teams with hot topics and top priorities or challenges that they can factor into their communication plans,” says Andrew.

Reverse mentoring, where younger employees are paired with senior team members to mentor them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance, can also be a valuable source of feedback on the value and relevance of the employee benefits offered to a specific segment of the workforce.

Another new method that many organisations are adopting is the use of champion networks. “This involves identifying a network of internal ‘influencers’ who can provide ongoing feedback on how employees are feeling about the various aspects of the employee experience,” adds Andrew. “In turn, these individuals are also great for amplifying messages when launching a new initiative, as they are trusted by their peers.”

Organisations also need to be mindful of the fact that employee sentiment over benefits provision, or lack of it, may not come through official channels. Lathey says: “An increase in the number of employees wanting to opt out of auto-enrolment pensions, for example, is often a leading indicator for increased financial stress throughout your workforce and a need for greater investment in financial wellbeing. Absenteeism patterns can also provide useful feedback, and certain patterns can indicate mental strain.”