Need to know:
- Flexible benefits schemes have been moving towards anytime enrolment windows over the past few years to give employees more flexibility in accessing their benefits.
- Certain benefits, such as private medical insurance and group risk benefits, must have fixed annual enrolment periods due to arrangements with insurance providers.
- Anytime enrolment offers employers more opportunity to promote benefits throughout the year to encourage take up.
As consumers we have become accustomed to an on-demand society; we have access to technology all day every day, providing us with whatever information we want, whenever we want it, and enabling us to access products and services around the clock.
The world of employee benefits has had to move in line with employees-as-consumers expectations. Flexible benefits schemes began to reflect the consumer-demand approach a few years ago with the move to any-time enrolment windows. Adam Maher, senior flexible benefits consultant at Willis Towers Watson, says: “The drivers for that are enabling employees to engage with benefits year round, rather than just [as] a once a year event, and also to offer maximum flexibility to meet employees’ needs [because] they might change throughout the year.”
But what do employers need to know about this scheme structure?
Anytime enrolment is a move away from the fixed annual enrolment windows that traditionally saw employers open up their flex schemes for around two weeks in the year in order for employees to make their choices. Many employers now open up their schemes on a monthly basis, allowing employees to make choices as and when it is applicable to their lives.
Having a fixed date once a year proved to be restrictive for employers’ benefits strategies, says Gethin Nadin, director of global partnerships at Benefex. For example, if an employer’s annual enrolment was in January, with the scheme running until December, a new starter in February may not be able to access the full suite of flexible benefits until the next enrolment window almost a year later. “I just don’t think that works because [the employer] misses almost 12 months worth of opportunity to engage people effectively,” says Nadin. “If they have to wait 12 months, it just doesn’t work.”
Technology is also a key driver in the move to enabling staff to choose benefits more frequently. “The motivation behind how that technology is driven is by what employees are getting on the consumer side,” says Nadin. “Effectively, the smartest computer most of us will ever own sits in our pockets. We’ve got that always-on, always access to technology so for employees to have to wait for anything is almost archaic.”
The expectations of employees as consumers is that they can get whatever information they want, whenever they want, 24 hours a day, says Andy Campbell, HCM strategy director at Oracle. “Businesses are having to respond to that set of expectations to be able to offer their employees the same kind of consumer perspective, the consumer service that they have in their domestic lives. Having a move toward flexible enrolment is just one other example of this occurring.”
Benefits to consider
Typically a flexible benefits scheme will include a mixture of benefits that can be taken up at any point during the year, and those that need to have a fixed annual renewal date. “More flexible technology platforms and an increased range of lifestyle benefits available outside of the traditional risk and health benefits enable us to bring more benefits to employees for selections during the year than previously,” says Maher.
Most benefits can be included in any-time enrolment, for example, childcare vouchers, bikes-for-work schemes or gym membership, although the scheme might require an employee to sign up for a 12-month contract. However benefits such as private medical insurance and group risk products do still require a fixed annual enrolment date. “We still see an annual enrolment window for insured benefits,” says Maher. “For those schemes, there are efficiencies in communicating the changes to rates and terms with a common renewal date for all employees under the scheme, that’s one factor. The other is that with these group schemes there’s no underwriting on joining so insurers want some sensible controls to protect their risk profile and claims fund.”
Flexible benefits communication
With an annual date, employers tend to have a communication period leading up to the enrolment window, whereby they will highlight to employees their options and the benefits available to them. Any-time enrolment widens up the opportunity to promote benefits more frequently, but also with targeted promotions.Simon Parkinson, senior design consultant at Standard Life, says: “We have experience of [employers] using the any-time benefits to help promote things like launching a total reward statement, or significant pension changes coming in. So picking various points in the year to actually remind employees about the benefits they can choose. Perhaps there’s a wellbeing exercise going on, and at that point, remind employees they can go in and choose certain benefits, look at the gyms, think about [bikes for] work.”
As employees’ lives and priorities change can change at pace, any-time enrolment allows employers’ benefits schemes to move with the changes and offer a reactive package that suits all members of staff.