Flexible Benefits research supplement 2002 – Voluntary benefits : The popular choice

Voluntary benefits can take flexible benefits to the extreme – allowing employers to offer benefits to suit every taste – if they want to. It’s one reason why voluntary benefits can be an ideal first step towards a flexible benefit plan. By merely facilitating discounts for employees, employers can avoid the hassle of running fully-fledged benefits. It’s not surprising then, that voluntary benefits are popular among UK employers – 174 of our 282 respondents (62%) offer discounted products and services to employees. Voluntary benefits work well for large workforces – primarily because employers can arrange bigger discounts. In our sample, over 80% of organisations with more than 3,000 employees offer voluntary benefits; but only 45% of those with under 100 employees do. It can be a hands-free way of providing what staff want, but the achievement of good take-up rates needs a careful selection of products, strong communication, and help with the admin surrounding payments. About half (49%), of respondents communicated voluntary benefits as a unified package, while the same number don’t – promoting discounts on an ad hoc basis. Employees and providers usually prefer payments to be deducted via payroll. It cuts down on administration and avoids the risk of employees defaulting. For the employer it is slightly different – because payroll has to deal with employee purchasing whims. But the fact that 80% of employers allow staff to pay for voluntary benefits via payroll deduction, means it must be worth the effort. Product choice is crucial – it is no good offering products staff won’t want. While some core products appear in many packages, some can be specific to particular employee populations – like the large music firm which negotiated discounts on Doc Martens. Because healthcare cash plans have always been sold to employees on a voluntary basis, it is not surprising that they’re the most common benefit in voluntary packages. A new entrant in our most ‘popular voluntary benefit’ list is stakeholder pensions. Since its launch in April 2001 it has become the third most commonly offered voluntary benefit amongst UK employers. The joy of voluntary benefits is that you can include anything – depending on the tastes of the workforce. Benefits that were offered by about one in 10 employers include critical illness insurance, eye care, motor breakdown cover, health screening, and income protection. For full results please see Flexible Benefits resaerch supplement 202 – Results at a glance