Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Employers have gone back-to-basics with their benefits strategies

When judging for the 2009 Employee Benefits Awards, which takes place on 26 June 2009 it quickly became clear that employers have made a mass to return to good old fashioned benefits delivery. After several boom years where each scheme launched or relaunched appeared to outdo the last with clever gimmicks and flashy new services, now reward and benefits managers have almost become a little boring in concentrating on the fundamentals.

But is no bad thing, in fact it is a correction that was needed. Too many employers were implementing schemes, especially flexible benefits schemes, because it was the trend and not because that was necessarily the best solution for their circumstances.

Pushed on by an ever growing number of consultants and advisers who could deliver ever more sophisticated plans, many employers felt left behind unless they offered workforces as much choice as possible (while some of these advisers walked off with the main prize which was to rebroker the insurances and pensions that sat behind the flex schemes).

The benefits choices on offer – whether through flex, voluntary or traditional schemes – continued to increase – but employee understanding of what they were receiving usually did not. Figures in several of Employee Benefits’ recent research reports show that staff appreciation of their benefits has barely changed over the years, indicating that we have all got too excited about new strategies while often forgetting that the average employee has little knowledge nor interest in benefits.

So now is the time to pare back, and revisit employers’ true objectives – many of which will have changed or been forgotten since benefits plans were launched over recent years.

It is also time to review benefits costs – again, too many employers have been complacent during the good times and are paying over the odds. Fortunately the recession has woken them up. The Employee Benefits Research 2009, published in May shows that 33% of UK employers plan to review their providers to get a better deal.

Consultants and advisers who have had a vested interest in keeping clients on higher paying deals might find themselves having to do some explaining. Equally, employers are slowly becoming more savvy at asking for details on commission structures as they realize that this is a far from even playing field.

This time of austerity might made for a more boring approach to benefits strategies, but it will make for fascinating viewing as all players have to change their game play to justify expenditure.