Debi O’Donovan: Three most important things to do with benefits

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a new HR director who had been tasked with talking about her organisation’s benefits package.

Although I have written and spoken on the topic for 15 years, looking directly at the coalface is a very different matter. I resisted the temptation to list all the benefits I would like, although I could not resist asking why we still did not use pensions salary sacrifice. Instead, I stuck to the ‘what are the company’s objectives?’ and ‘have we got the hygiene factors (reward and non-reward) right?’ line of discussion. Without having clarity on either of these, there was no point discussing actual benefits (see How to review a benefits strategy).

Like many organisations, we have reshaped ourselves dramatically during the years of recession. What might have worked five years ago may well not be fit for purpose now.

But what struck me more than anything was the HR director’s to-do list on her whiteboard. Whatever she did on benefits would not get more than 30 minutes of her time, given all the other far more pressing issues to be dealt with.

I hear this time and again as I speak to other HR directors and their advisers. Even dedicated benefits professionals are battling to manage anything outside implementing auto-enrolment legislation.

We are all busier than ever, so I do feel a little guilty every time Employee Benefits flags up more areas that HR and benefits managers must watch out for. So, in the tone of our ‘If you read nothing else, read this’ boxes, here are the three things I would put in an ‘If you do nothing else, do this’ box.

First, if you are offering staff a default fund in a contract-based pension scheme, make sure it is being reviewed at least annually to ensure funds are switched to match changing economic challenges (too many defaults remain unchecked and unchanged from year to year).

Second, make sure you understand all the charges your organisation and your staff are paying for a contract-based plan (too many employers and some advisers do not have the full picture). Third, make sure your pre-retirement staff understand how vital it is to use the open market option if they are going to buy an annuity when they retire (see Key points to tell staff about annuities).

Get these three points wrong and it will cost your staff thousands of pounds (possibly even tens or hundreds of thousands) over their lifetimes, putting almost all other benefits in the shade.

Debi O’Donovan, Editor
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