Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: True value of benefits is worth more than cash

There has been an interesting, subtle shift in benefits provision over the past 12 months. A year ago, many employers were battening down the hatches, cutting costs, freezing pay and generally doing what they could to survive a horrendous economic downturn. Some employers are still in this mode, and may be for years to come.

But among good employers, there was always an awareness of trying not to alienate staff too much – even when they knew this was inevitable.

Many are now through the worst, having emerged slimmer, wiser and more than a little battle weary. In some sectors, recruitment has even picked up, and for a few months we have seen pay hikes in particular industries as employers battle for top talent.

The upshot on the benefits front is that, in the main, employers have become much more aware of the value of perks. Although there has been some strict cost cutting, benefits have mostly been seen as an inexpensive way to reward and engage staff. The cost of keeping benefits is far less than trying to pay cash instead, and in fact the value perception of benefits among staff is greater than their actual cash value.

Hence, our cover story this month discovers that calculating the return on investment on benefits often has little to do with hard cash figures. And that is how it should be – the true value of benefits is intangible. The way they can be used to keep staff loyal, healthy, incentivised, and so on, is hard to measure; this is the extra ‘free’ value that employers get with well-chosen, carefully-targeted benefits.

So it was no wonder that at Employee Benefits’ first ever Pensions Summit last month, some of the UK’s largest employers spent time, effort and money on offering top-quality defined contribution (often contract-based) pensions. They all need to watch costs, but also have a firm eye on the business value of benefits such as pensions.

This issue is published just two days before one of the most tightly-contested UK elections in decades. While Employee Benefits does not support any particular political view, we hope that whoever is running the country after 6 May will support crucial social employer-provided benefits, such as childcare vouchers and pensions, through tax and national insurance breaks.