Can employee benefits really drive employee engagement?

This article is supplied by MetLife.

Closer relations
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The relationship between employers and their employees is similar to a marriage, in that it needs to be a two-way partnership. 

For the relationship to work, both parties need to know what they are committing to, and both the employer and the employee need to be honest about what is important to them: their plans, their idiosyncrasies, their likes and dislikes and their ambitions for the future. Then, if everything fits perfectly (or thereabouts), day one will mark the first step in a happy and mutually-beneficial relationship.

We have been studying the multi-faceted relationships between employers and employees, and in particular what they mean for the holy grail of engagement, for 13 years, since we published our first Employee benefit trends study in 2002. 

In the search for engagement, we have found that there is not one silver bullet, but a number of elements that need to work together in an organisation to create and sustain a culture of trust, commitment and connectedness. This then creates a foundation for strong organisations that are resilient in the face of challenge and change.

It would be wrong, therefore, to assert that employee benefits can drive employee engagement. Rather, employers need to make clear commitments to the other elements that form the cornerstone of an engagement culture to reap results. 

There are a number of key engagement drivers

An online quantitative study that we conducted between June and July 2014, among 300 employers and 301 employees about their attitudes, options and current practices, concluded that there is not one, but a number of key drivers of engagement. 

In the UK, the three powerful influences were: how in control employees feel about their finances; how caring and supportive line managers are; and, finally, the value an employee places on their benefits. 

These drivers reflect the major concerns that employees have today. The first is about how they are going to afford to live comfortably in retirement, and whether or not retiring at age 65 is an attainable goal or a pipe dream, and the second is about how they cope with everything else that faces them: work-life balance, stress, caring for ageing relatives and financial security if the main wage earner could not work due to illness or injury.

These themes point clearly to a significant opportunity for employers to help address employees’ concerns, and to ensure that they look after their wellbeing and resilience. 

Supporting staff wellbeing has commercial value

This approach should not be seen as purely paternalistic, but as having real commercial value. Employees that feel cared for exhibit stronger allegiance to their employers, which, in turn, translates to engagement. Widespread lack of engagement manifests itself in lower productivity and higher absence rates. It goes without saying, therefore, that engagement counts.

But just how much can an employee benefits programme do to positively influence engagement? When we examined the data from our study, we found remarkably different rankings on key engagement indicators among two polemic categories: employees that place a high value on benefits and those that do not.

The differences are stark. For example, when it comes to agreement with the statement ‘my organisation is a great place to work’, 43% of those that value benefits highly agreed compared with 20% of those that did not. ‘I feel loyal to my employer’ scored 48% and 19% respectively.

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It is clear, therefore, that benefits count. And it is here that employers’ opportunity lies. It is not enough for them to simply have benefits in place. For employees to value them, benefits must be communicated effectively, and employers must listen to employees’ views about how they want to be communicated to, how often and at what level.

Tom Gaynor is employee benefits director at MetLife