How can employers make flexible benefits schemes relevant post-pandemic?

Need to know:

  • As workforces become more agile and diverse, easy access and the ability to personalise benefits is increasingly important.
  • An increase in remote working has highlighted the need for a digital approach to benefits and the right technology to support a flex benefits platform.
  • Employee feedback on benefits can be measured more accurately using neuroscience surveys to identify specific areas of physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing that employees need more support with.

Flexible benefits schemes have long been a priority for employers as it allows them to meet the needs of a diverse workforce, many of which now encompass five generations of employees. But how has this flexible offering fared during a pandemic that has impacted employee’s working lives and wellbeing like never before?

In terms of flexible benefits choices over the last 12 months, Helen Payne, principal at Aon, has seen some noticeable, but unsurprising, differences. She says: “Take up of holiday purchase, travel insurance, and dining cards, for example, have all reduced, while take up of cycle schemes, insurance benefits, virtual GPs and personal trainers that help support the wellbeing of remote workers, have increased in most flex schemes.”

A growing interest in implementing ‘green’ flex benefits, such as green cars, sustainable pension funds and carbon offsetting, is also evident among organisations looking to demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Aon’s Benefit and trends survey, published in January 2021, found that since the pandemic the importance of benefit cost management had increased, rising from fourth most important benefit objective in 2020, to second most important objective in 2021. However, Payne has not seen any change in the way that flex schemes are funded as a result.

She says: “This is probably because employee engagement remains the number one objective year-on-year and one significant impact of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) is the increase in remote working which has highlighted the need for an agile and digital approach to benefits.”

Personalised benefits suite

As workforces become more agile and diverse, easy access and the ability to personalise benefits is increasingly important. As a driver of flex benefits schemes, employee benefits technology is more relevant than ever following the pandemic, not least because of the increased pressure employees are placing on their employers to reflect the values they hold dear, as Tobin Murphy Coles, CEO of employee benefits consultancy Amba, explains.

He says: “There are more Gen Z employees in the workplace who tend to focus on ethics, prioritising perks like wellbeing support, environmental investments, and accessible healthcare over traditional flexible benefits offerings. In addition, the rise in remote working as a result of pandemic means that employees are increasingly demanding access to benefits at a time that suits them, not their employer.

“Employee benefits technology offers a solution to these shifting priorities and is in increasing demand as a result. Digital platforms that are available to all, not just senior figures at mature businesses, and offer any-time benefits that truly fit with employees’ values are the future.”

Employee recognition

Flexible benefits schemes can also play a role in helping to reward employees when bonuses or pay rises are otherwise not possible by enabling them to redirect benefit spend to the areas that are important to them and access products and services to help them save money, protect their family and improve personal wellbeing.

Craig Williams, director, employee benefits, at Broadstone, says: “Even within a fixed budget a flexible scheme enables employees to choose the benefits that matter most to them. This can be easily facilitated by the introduction of a flexible benefits allowance. If employees decide they don’t need to spend that allowance on ‘traditional’ benefits, discount vouchers could be offered, tailored to employees’ preferences and needs, for example vouchers that can be used to reduce weekly grocery shopping expenditure, or to incentivise the purchases of wellbeing technology such as wearables.”

Employee input

One thing that is unlikely change in the post-pandemic world of work is the importance of employee feedback to developing a successful flex benefits scheme that meets the needs of everyone in the organisation. Traditional employee benefit surveys can be quite dry with predictable outcomes that won’t necessarily make a difference to employee engagement.

A more effective way of gauging employee needs and preferences is to conduct a neuroscience survey, says Aon’s Payne. “This will show how employees really feel about their working environment and what areas of the physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing they need more support with. By collecting more meaningful data employers can better understand employees and put in place policies, benefits and pathways that address their issues to make an impact.”