Debi O’Donovan: Benefits show ongoing buoyancy

Whatever impact this ongoing recession has had on workplace strategies, it seems to have given employee benefits a relatively free pass.

Looking at our annual Benefits Research published this month (now in its 10th year), I can see that in each of the past four years, roughly one-third of respondents were planning to implement new benefits. This does indicate some buoyancy in the market.

On top of this, only a small minority (about one in 10 in recent years) were making plans to cut the benefits budget. It could be that this is no different from non-recession times, but we will have to wait for Benefits Research reports in future years before we can confirm such statistics.

This is not to say that benefits managers have not been working hard to keep a handle on costs. Topping the to-do list each year since 2010 has been the need to review suppliers to get a better deal, followed closely by plans to renegotiate insurance-based products. Benefits have been a steady boat during stormy times.

However, for those involved in compensation, there is an interesting up-tick in our 2013 results. The proportion of respondents planning to increase base salaries for some or all staff in the coming 12 months has jumped to 21% from 12% last year. In turn, the number planning to end pay freezes is a mere 6%, down dramatically from the 34% in 2010, indicating how few (in the private sector, which dominate our research) still have pay freezes in place.

So much of the action is likely to be taking place on the compensation side, spurred on by continuing scrutiny of executive bonuses. The word on the street (the metaphorical benefits street) is that the compliance issues facing the financial services sector over pay and bonuses are likely to have an impact on compensation thinking outside that sector too. Assuming, of course, anyone has time in-between rolling out auto-enrolment, the issue shaping benefits strategies for 62% of respondents in our 2013 survey.

With all this going on in our industry, it is not surprising that we have 107 finalists for the 2013 Employee Benefits Awards (see list of finalists here). Although judging is hard work, it is always gratifying to hear from our judges just how rigorous our process is and the level of integrity and independence that is applied.

There can be only one winner in each category, but already the finalists can congratulate themselves for having made these esteemed lists.

Debi O’Donovan, Editor
Follow on Twitter: @DebiODonovan