New year’s resolutions are often hard to keep, so employers can use their flexible benefits schemes to help employees achieve their good intentions.
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- The new year is a good time for employers to educate staff about the flexible benefits they offer.
- Financial wellbeing is a particular area of focus for many employees as they assess their Christmas spending.
- Successful flexible benefits schemes require good forward planning.
Employers could start by aligning the renewal date of their flex scheme to the new year. This has three advantages: it allows employers to tap into employees’ new year zest; it enables employers to engage staff with the flex scheme and boost take-up; and these factors combined help to support employees’ good intentions for the year ahead.
Andy Philpott, director of sales and marketing at Edenred, says: “Thinking creatively about how to engage employees when they come back [in the new year] is important. Employers want to invest in, and engage with, their employees.”
Health and wellbeing is a common area of focus for many employees after the excesses of the festive season, so employers could consider how to use their flex scheme to help staff kick-start new hobbies or exercise regimes.
Matt Duffy, head of online benefits at Lorica Consulting, says: “Benefits that we tend to see a push on are things like GymFlex, in which employees sign up for a tax-efficient gym membership for the new year.”
Duffy says employers should also look at proactive, preventative medical insurance providers that offer additional services around their insurance, such as health risk assessments that give employees information on areas such as nutrition and sleep, and offer advice on how to manage these better.
Matthew Gregson, consulting director at Thomsons Online Benefits, says a recent employer trend has involved the design of flex communication. “So when it comes to new year’s resolutions, we tend to design awareness campaigns around things like sports and social clubs and employees getting a health assessment, joining a gym or joining a bikes-for-work scheme.”
But Gregson advises employers to approach such initiatives in the context of a wider campaign, rather than just focusing on flexible benefits. “Rather than just opening up a benefits window to drive that new year resolution peak, employers are putting a lot of focus on things like wellness days that, ultimately, may drive employees to stay fit and healthy and, off the back of that, will then incentivise staff to take up benefits.”
New year’s resolutions are also often set around financial goals, especially if employees’ banks accounts have been hit hard in the run-up to Christmas.
“Employee savings is quite a popular benefit to introduce in the first part of the year,” says Edenred’s Philpott. “From an employer’s point of view, by offering access to employee savings schemes, it is giving employees the chance to make their disposable income go that bit further, and for not too big an investment by the employer.”
Savings schemes can also help to boost an employer’s image.
“Savings schemes have been a very popular benefit for a long time now, and we’re seeing that more, partly in the lead-up to Christmas, because that’s when employees spend,” says Philpott.
“It’s a really good benefit to put in place in the new year, so employers can say ‘we want to try and help [employees] in the year ahead’.”
But any savings scheme an employer decides to offer must be communicated effectively to have a real impact on an employee’s financial situation, and pensions are no exception.
Next year will see many small and medium-sized employers focus on pensions as they prepare for their auto-enrolment staging dates, and this will lead to employers focusing on financial education and communication to increase employees’ understanding of benefits.
Philpott says: “Pensions auto-enrolment really does force that to the next level in terms of taking time to explain to employees the real value of the benefits they get today, and taking a bit more time to educate them on wider financial issues.”
A comprehensive communications strategy is vital to support the flexible benefits employers offer to help staff keep their new year’s resolutions.
A flex scheme’s renewal date will typically determine when the benefits are promoted. If, for example, an employer’s renewal date is in January, it can start promoting the benefits in the run-up to Christmas. But a communications cycle of three campaigns in a 12-month period would be ideal, with each campaign starting well in advance of a flex renewal date.
Matt Waller, chief executive officer at Benefex, says: “We encourage employers to have as long a run into it as possible, and drip-feed information out to employees, so they are aware that it’s coming, and are making a decision for a longer period than just the build-up to Christmas.
“It’s about trying to draw employees’ attention to the fact that they are making decisions that will be in place for the rest of the year.”
But such forward planning requires great effort by employers, both in terms of benefits selection and the communications strategy.
Thomsons’ Gregson adds: “If employers really want to do something successful around new year’s resolutions, they need to go beyond just offering the benefits; they need to engage employees properly.
“The idea of goal-setting and improving awareness and education is a far stronger way to deliver the message.”
He says this will have a better chance of resulting in employees taking up the benefits on offer, which in turn will help them to keep their new year’s resolutions.
Case study: City and Guilds studies flex communications
City and Guilds uses the communication strategy it wraps around its flexible benefits enrolment windows to drive staff engagement with flex.
The vocational qualifications provider has three enrolment windows each year; the main one is in November, with the other two in March and July.
Staff feedback has shown City and Guilds that, at present, employees are interested in tangible benefits that give an immediate value, so the organisation has focused its communications on the lifestyle benefits available through its flex scheme.
The employer found that the discount dining card Tastecard was particularly popular when it was introduced last year, so it focused its communications for November’s enrolment window around that benefit.
City and Guilds runs tailored email campaigns to announce when its enrolment windows open. It can target communications to staff that may not have logged in yet, or who have logged in but have made no choices.
The organisation also runs a wellbeing day ahead of each enrolment window, and invites benefits providers to showcase their products and services to staff at its main London office.
Chris Coyne, head of reward and HR services at City and Guilds, whose current flex brand is in its third year, says: “The brand is quite well known and established, so we haven’t got the challenge of raising awareness, it’s just a case of driving engagement.
“We want employees to recognise the value of total reward, so it’s about them appreciating that they’ve got more than just their base salary and some standard benefits they might get anywhere. It’s about them recognising the choice.
“That is all about our philosophy of empowering [employees] and giving them choice where we can.”