Good IT is vital in communicating perks

Systems can be crucial tools in addressing the lack of understanding that employees have about their perks, and good IT can remind workers of the different elements of their package every time they log in

What can we be sure of when we ask employees about their remuneration? Firstly, they will say they are not paid enough, but secondly when pushed they are likely to demonstrate a sad lack of understanding of the true value of their package.

Technology may help to improve employee understanding of the value of the benefits package but it is not going to be the answer for every organisation. It could be that budgets are limited or the nature of the business is such that employees do not have access to PCs, so technology-based solutions may be inappropriate.

However, remember that employees increasingly see paper as a costly and a less environmentally friendly way of communicating. Whatever method of communication you choose it will not be a substitute for personal communication and advocacy from a trusted line manager or colleague.

So how is technology helping to communicate benefits? The bigger the company, the more complex the reward systems, so the less likely it is that spreadsheets or a basic HR system is going to be able to cope. In these cases you either have to engage in customisation of the main system or bolt on an extra system from another supplier.

The first big plus of the new generation of system solutions is speed. Once the system is up and running, with the bugs ironed out of it, then the old labour intensive, long winded and probably insecure processes are a thing of the past.

For example, once a flexible benefits programme has been designed and the provider feeds and the data feeds sorted out, you are ready to launch. This enables more time to be spent on the product (the flex plan) and it’s marketing, than on the admin.

Web-based solutions also offer employees access 24/7 with the ability to manage benefits from a home PC, as well as during working hours. Employees’ partners can even become involved in the selection process.

Furthermore, the amount of information that can be given on a web-based system is far greater than in a brochure. This is an important feature as benefits are become increasingly complex, particularly when a business is trying to leverage maximum tax and national insurance efficiencies not only for itself, but also for employees.

But it is when you start building integrated solutions that technology really comes into its own. Creating a one-stop web-based solution that does flexible benefits, total reward statements, recognition schemes and the like should be the goal of remuneration experts and systems providers.

Such systems already exist, although at present they are not widely used. At Nationwide, we have successfully integrated our in-house technology and PeopleSoft system with that of Vebnet and Grass Roots, to create our “Fruitful” benefits platform. Over the past year employee involvement with the platform has steadily increased such that as at December 1, 2006 the platform was receiving almost 7,000 hits a day. Our flexible benefits scheme, “Choices” is also saving employees and the business around £2.6m a year through the provision of benefits which are tax and national insurance efficient. †

These systems are critical tools in addressing the lack of understanding employees have about their package. Every time they log into the system they will be reminded of the different elements of the package. Knowledge, understanding and ultimately appreciation, grows with each visit.

Achieving employee appreciation of the package is a prized goal. In service industries, particularly the financial services industry, staff costs account for approximately 50% of the operating costs of the business. It is therefore vital that such high spends are effective, appreciated and valued by the employee.

As we move forward, the use of technology in benefits provisioning will not be an option, it will be a necessity. As with every development, the early adopters and the innovators will steal a march on the competition and in today’s war for talent, they will be the ones who win.

Paul Bissell, head of rewards, Nationwide Building Society