Can flexible benefits technology improve employees’ engagement with their benefits?

flexible benefits technology

Need to know:

  • Technology is helping organisations to engage employees with flexible benefits.
  • Easier access, more effective communication and better reporting means employees are more likely to engage with schemes.
  • The use of mobile devices has helped to encourage staff to access systems while at home or on the move.

Any employer investing significant sums of money in flexible benefits packages wants to see a return on that investment, both in terms of take-up but also, eventually, engagement, retention and productivity.

In recent years, the technology itself has become a means of helping to achieve this. Jack Curzon, head of scheme design at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “Technology has gone from not having much of a seat at the benefits delivery table 30 or 40 years ago to becoming the principal way to ensure success against objectives. [Employers] are now focused on creating a consistent, intuitive and effortless user experience through technology, underpinned by robust data analytics, to deliver the most engaging employee experience they can at every step of the employee lifecycle.”

Easy access to benefits
At a basic level, being able to access information quickly and easily is essential if employees are to take the time to engage with benefits packages. James Malia, director of employee benefits at Sodexo Engage, says: “An employee’s experience with a benefit is no different to a consumer experience with a brand. If an employee has a really positive experience using a benefits technology platform, they are much more likely to engage and take advantage of the benefit on offer.”

Platforms are certainly more user-friendly than they were just a few years ago, says Curzon. “Enterprise technology developers are borrowing techniques from consumer applications, such as using familiar icons for common functionality, think of a floppy disk for save or a cog for settings, which helps reduce the learning curve for new users,” he says. “They are acutely aware of how their audience interacts with consumer technology daily, and consider how they can draw on this to make their own [business-to-business] B2B products more intuitive.”

The advent of single sign-on has helped make the process of engaging with benefits packages simpler, by removing a practical issue which can often deter employees from using systems, says Nicky Dunderdale, director of digital at Psyon. “Employees no longer have to remember their log-in details or go through tiring password reset journeys to access these systems; they simply click a link from their intranet which seamlessly logs them on to their flexible benefits portal,” she says. “It has made life so much easier for employers and their staff.”

There is still room for improvement here, however, because often further details are required to log into providers’ websites. “To ensure a good user experience, it is essential that the information is gathered quickly, simply and without any fuss,” says Dunderdale. “Make it too complicated and employees will just give up.”

The use of application programme interfaces, though, is helping employers to draw on information from different sources. Ian Bird, business development director at Secondsight, says: “Through this technology, we are beginning to see workplace engagement portals and flex benefit platforms coming together, capturing relevant information from one another. This is the way I believe the market will go.”

Cost-effective developments
The software-as-a-service (SaaS) model is also having an impact, helping employers to access updates and new functionality without having to purchase expensive upgrades. David Walker, chief commercial officer at Personal Group, says: “More [employers] are moving their systems towards a SaaS model, where subscriptions give them access to the latest version of the technology and benefit from the latest innovations. This removes the need for significant upfront investment and spreads the cost over the duration of [the] benefits programme.”

Engaging communication
How packages communicate with employees has also seen significant change, with the use of new tools. Dom Manley, technology specialist, UK health and benefits, at Aon Employee Benefits, says: “Web guides, video, audio and infographic representations of benefits are becoming more commonplace to communicate different sections of a benefit package. The introduction of chatbots and [artificial intelligence] AI-driven algorithms are also starting to change how employees engage with their employer-sponsored schemes.”

Alongside this, employers are now able to tailor packages for particular groups of employees within one flexible benefits package. Graham Meinke, head of product management at Zest, says: “Providing a single and seamless experience for an employee allows businesses to both tailor the message across a number of benefits for different employees and provide a single, branded, joined-up benefit experience. Employers are able to speak to people in a tone that reflects their corporate brand but also treat people as individuals, so [they] get more personalised messaging that relates to their demographics.”

Packages have also responded to wider trends in society towards the use of mobile devices, adapting the system accordingly. “​A benefits technology supplier now needs to cater for multiple devices of multiple sizes but still have a consistent approach to how an employee would engage with that system,” says Manley. “This has driven a more clean and concise approach to benefit delivery with snapshots of information and highlights, which then allow users to dive deeper in to the areas that may be of interest to them.”

Remote access
Having access to information away from the office can directly help to drive engagement with packages, particularly for those benefits which cater for families. “Employees often want to make selections in consultation with their families, so we’re seeing far more of that on mobile devices and away from the office environment,” says Meinke. “We’re also providing an increasing number of platforms to employers which have large remote workforces.”

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Reporting functions on benefits platforms have also improved in recent years, helping employers to monitor the impact of any campaigns, as well as ensuring they are offering the right benefits for their workforce and demographics. “This can include statistical analysis of selection within the population, perhaps how different engagement techniques impacted usage or take-up, and behavioural surveys across populations and how this compares against peers, sectors or any other comparison,” says Manley.

Organisations need to look beyond take-up as a measure of success. As Dipa Mistry Kandola, head of flexible benefits services at consultancy LCP, says: “If we rethink and turn our engagement and success factor stats to be focused on things like number of interactions, logins, use of tools, or views of videos on a regular basis, instead of benefits take-up once a year, then we can have a more rounded measure of the impact technology has had. Until we get to that point we are only measuring take-up, and not engagement.”