How are benefits strategies expanding to support employees’ lives outside of the workplace?


Need to know:

  • Issues affecting employees’ lives outside of work can have an impact on their wellbeing and performance in the workplace.
  • Benefits can support staff with everyday concerns through to major life events.
  • A continuous communication strategy will help remind employees that these benefits are available to them at the different times at which they need them.

A quarter (25%) of respondents in Relate and Relationships Scotland’s A labour of love – or labour versus love? report, published in October 2016, admit that stress at home adversely affects them at work. While many of the personal issues causing employees concern may appear unrelated to work, they can impact their performance and behaviour in the workplace, which can have a knock-on effect on engagement and productivity. Providing benefits that help staff address the issues they are facing outside of the workplace can therefore not only support employees’ overall wellbeing, but also deliver benefits for the business.

Everyday financial pressures

While flexible-working programmes and caring benefits can help staff manage varying responsibilities, their time and their wellbeing, there are also a number of other ways in which benefit schemes can support employees’ lives outside of the workplace, from major life events to everyday tasks and strains. Discount schemes, for example, are now a common feature of many benefit packages, enabling staff to save on everyday expenses through to big purchases and experiences. James Hewitt, head of client services, Europe at Lifeworks, says: “Where people have managed to save 5% per week on their grocery spend, that can add up to a substantial amount of money for an individual when tied in with some of their other spend [using discounts], whether it’s savings on utilities, insurance, or on trips out with the family.”

The move towards consumer-style online experiences, such as mobile apps and e-vouchers, allows employees to take advantage of these discounts outside of the workplace or whenever is most convenient for them. Jacqueline Benjamin, co-founder and director at Xexec, says: “Everything is moving along as fast as possible [now], so being able to get instant discounts on the go is really valuable for employees.”

Advances in the utilisation of digital technology within benefit strategies can also be harnessed to prompt employees to take a proactive approach to their personal finances. For example, Mercer’s digital platform Harmonise, makes use of data to nudge employees towards its whole-of-market comparison capability where comparing the cost of items such as utilities could result in savings. Niall O’Callaghan, Harmonise proposition leader for Europe at Mercer, says: “It’s the ability to nudge somebody to do it at the appropriate time because it’s something that you can always have at the back of your mind but never get around to doing; it’s trying to bring it to the forefront so it’s easy to do.”

For employers looking to support all aspects of employees’ lives, the integration of data from inside and outside the workplace could lead to more personalised benefits provision and communication, says O’Callaghan. “Obviously that’s on an opt-in basis from an employee perspective,” he adds. “But if [organisations] get that right then the impact could be very significant in terms of improvement in engagement levels.”

Freeing up valuable personal time

Money is not the only resource that employee benefits can help staff conserve. Concierge, or lifestyle management, services can also help employees save time by providing assistance with tasks ranging from researching information about schools for employees’ children, to making travel arrangements or sourcing concert tickets.

Benjamin says: “Typically, concierge services have seemingly been something that [one] would think was only for top executives, now we are finding it across the board.”

When offering access to this benefit, some organisations may choose to focus on a particular aspect of the service, such as travel, explains Benjamin, adding that travel and ticket agency services are the areas that have experienced the biggest surge in growth.

Employers might also provide employees with access to a base level of service, giving staff the option to upgrade to additional tiers of service at their own cost, says Iain McMath, chief executive officer at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services. “It’s about creating an environment for employees to perform, so if [organisations] can remove a lot of these pressures on them then their productivity goes up,” he adds.

The establishment of local networks of reputable suppliers and tradespeople alongside the development of remote technology, such as smart locks, could provide support to employees with household emergencies, says McMath. For example, if an employee’s washing machine floods then the service could help arrange a plumber and enable access to the property through the smart lock. “There are some questions around security that need to be addressed, but these types of [services] will become more of a norm over the next 10 years,” he says. “The technology is there, it’s just how we configure it to make it work for us.”

While not feasible for all working environments, on-site lifestyle services such as dry cleaning, bike hire and repairs, and beauty treatments, can also give employees the opportunity to easily attend to matters that would otherwise eat into a greater chunk of their personal time. Helen Eyley, head of brand at west London business park Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work, home to organisations such as Discovery Communications, PepsiCo, and Swarovski, says: “What we’re trying to do is take away that hassle from everyday life so [employees at the site] can do things while they are here that make life that little bit easier, freeing up their personal time in the evenings and weekends so they can spend it with friends, family, doing whatever they want to do.”

If employees and organisations are to reap the full benefits of on-site services then these should be supported by a certain level of flexibility to enable staff to take their breaks at different times of the day to make use of them.

Eyley says: “If [employees] are happy they’ll work more productively, and if they’re working more productively then [organisations] here will flourish.” In the park’s 2015 survey, 95% of organisations at the site reported an increase in productivity.

Assistance around the big decisions

One of the integral components of employees’ personal lives is their living arrangements. Moving, saving for a rental deposit or working towards buying a home involve significant amounts of time and money. Some organisations are taking steps to address the practical and financial pressures facing employees in this area through initiatives such as rental deposit loan schemes, mortgage benefits and mortgage funds.

Jason Ransted, managing director at financial planning and employee benefits organisation Radcliffe and Newlands, says: “When [someone] buys a property it’s probably one of the most stressful things they do; [… it’s] outside of the workplace but it can come into the workplace and be a distraction.”

By offering a mortgage benefit that provides support throughout the process, from identifying the best mortgage rate to assistance with solicitors and estate agents, employers can reduce the strain on staff and ensure they remain engaged, says Ransted. “From an employer’s point of view, it also helps with presenteeism and keeps [employees] focused on their work,” he adds.

Financial education programmes can provide a framework through which employees can identify the areas in which they would benefit from support, and help get them to a position in which they are able to make the most of these. Lee Coles, head of workplace education at Jelf Employee Benefits, says: “First things first, [organisations] have got to get employees changing their behaviour and changing their habits.”

This might involve education around better budgeting, which could help an employee save for a deposit, or encouraging employees to consider what they would like their lives to look like in retirement so that they can see how much they need to save in order to achieve this.

“Whereas a lot of education in the workplace has focused on pensions in the past because it’s such a fluid industry and there’s always something new to talk about, there’s a recognition that [education] needs to be much broader,” says Coles.

This can be facilitated by career-stage and topic-specific education delivered through a combination of face-to-face support and online tools.

Emotional and practical support

While personal relationships may not be an area immediately associated with the workplace, Relate and Relationships Scotland’s report found that 43% of respondents would like their employer to offer relationship support. Employers can help meet this demand through the provision of certain employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and related services, which can offer access to emotional support, such as couples counselling, or to practical support, such as legal experts, depending on the employee’s needs.

Relationships are one of many areas in which EAPs can support employees with concerns both inside and outside of the workplace. Access to emotional and practical support services can be complemented by relevant informational content, which can aid in supporting staff and addressing problems before they progress further, says Lifeworks’ Hewitt. “If [the EAP] can prevent some of these things from becoming issues then that’s better for the individual because it’s [helping them] before they get to crisis point, and it’s better for the organisation because it means that productivity, the work or the team aren’t being impacted by a potential issue,” he adds.

A clear message

So what do organisations looking to develop a benefits package that extends support to staff outside of the workplace need to take into account? “The first thing that [organisations] need to consider is what are they looking to achieve from their benefits programme; in what way do they want their benefits to represent them as an organisation?” says Mercer’s O’Callaghan. “They then need to think about what level of choice they want to provide and the mechanism for delivering that choice.”

For the strategy to be most effective, the benefits and the way in which they are provided should be targeted at the needs of the organisation’s current employee demographic. Jelf’s Cole says: “To what extent are employers selecting benefits based on some form of dialogue with their employees, asking what kind of [support] they want to see, and what sort of issues [they] are facing?”

Like all benefits, schemes that address the pressure points facing staff should be communicated on an ongoing basis. Hewitt says: “It’s important to remind [employees] what’s available to them across the whole of their benefits offering because people need to use different services at different times.”

Communicating why these benefits are being offered to staff is also key, says Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work’s Eyley. Ensuring that this message is communicated to line managers can help to provide consistency across the organisation and boost engagement and understanding. “[It’s] educating and having conversations with line managers so they all understand the rationale behind [these benefits] and the [organisation’s] approach,” adds Sodexo’s McMath.

Ultimately, offering benefits that can assist staff in both their work and personal lives, and employees’ recognition of their employer’s efforts to support them in this way, can pay dividends to both parties. As McMath says: “The more employers do to improve the quality of life of [their] employees, the more they are going to contribute and deliver for the [organisation].”

cbiConfederation of British Industry offers London rental deposit scheme to staff

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) introduced a London rental deposit loan scheme for its employees in February 2015 in order to help staff with the cost of housing in the capital. The organisation implemented the scheme, which was pioneered by housing and homelessness charity Shelter, after its 2014 London business survey, published in September 2014, found that just under two-thirds (61%) of respondents cited rising housing costs and lack of availability of housing in London as a barrier to recruiting entry-level staff.

The tenancy deposit scheme works in a similar manner to season ticket loans; an interest-free loan is provided to staff to pay for their deposit on a rented home and repayments are then deducted from the employee’s salary. The CBI communicated the scheme to its employees through a range of channels, including its in-house newsletter and benefits booklet, which is distributed to new starters as part of their induction process and is also available to existing members of staff.

The CBI employs around 210 staff in the UK, some 160 of which are based in London. The organisation has seen approximately 10% of its London-based employees take up the rental deposit loan scheme.

Ben Holt, head of HR at the CBI, says: “Given the mix of different circumstances and employees at different stages of their lives, I think that’s a pretty good take-up rate. Those that have taken it up have said what a useful benefit it is to have. It takes a little bit of stress out of the moving process.”

Royal Mail 2Royal Mail provides support for staff going through relationship breakdowns

Royal Mail offers employees going through a separation and family breakdown access to legal and emotional support. The Dialogue First pilot initiative, which launched in September 2015, provides staff with a free 30-minute legal consultation with the aim of pursuing lawyer-supported mediation where appropriate.

The scheme is open to all staff and can be accessed via Royal Mail’s employee assistance programme (EAP), provided by OH Assist, which enables employees to be signposted to additional support services where needed.

Royal Mail introduced the scheme with the aim of supporting the mental wellbeing of its 143,000-strong workforce. Dr Shaun Davis, group director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability at Royal Mail Group, says: “It was an extension of the work that we do to promote our employee assistance programme and mental health, because one of the big issues around relationship breakdown is mental health.”

Royal Mail embedded the scheme into its EAP and highlighted it to staff through its internal newsletter, Courier. While the personal nature of the issue makes it more difficult to gauge the impact the scheme has had, Davis has received positive feedback about the fact that such a service is available to staff.

“It’s still early days for us and it would be difficult to measure success because it’s [a subject that] is very private to people, but this is one of those areas where you know this is the right thing to do, you know it’s going to be beneficial to people,” says Davis. “It’s one of those things you have to do without necessarily getting too caught up on the return on investment aspect, because morally it’s the right thing to do.”

dr_david_marjoribanksViewpoint: Relationship support provides benefits to employers, employees and their families

The UK labour force is increasingly over-worked and stressed out. Relate and Relationships Scotland’s study, A labour of love – or labour versus love?, published in October 2016, warns that a third of employees feel pressured to put work before family, and this is taking its toll on relationships.

Our wellbeing depends on balancing work and family, and both suffer when we cannot. When we are overworked, we are more likely to become ill, perform less well, and move jobs. And when work pressures affect relationships, the impact is exacerbated, as strained relationships worsen health and reduce resilience. A quarter of employees say stress from home adversely affects their work.

But when we are able to achieve balance and our relationships are in good health, we are more likely to perform better and be more engaged in our work. So there are clear benefits, for both employees and employers, in terms of wellbeing and productivity, for supporting a good work-family balance.

That is why Relate is calling on employers to provide relationship support through employee assistance programmes (EAPs) for employees whose relationships are under pressure.

Research by MetLife Employee Benefits, published in April 2016, found that 22% of HR professional respondents had provided relationship counselling to employees. Most employers provide individual counselling rather than relationship counselling, yet there is clear evidence that individual counselling is less effective for relationship difficulties.

There is definitely an appetite among staff for this: 43% of employees in our survey said they would support their employer offering relationship support to employees and their partners or families as part of employee benefit schemes. More organisations now need to recognise the benefits of relationship support for employees, their families and employers.

Dr David Marjoribanks is policy and public affairs manager at Relate