Marcia Reid of Finchers Consulting: Employee Benefits Live 2011

Employee Benefits Live has become an essential part of the calendar for the UK employee benefits industry. This is an excellent opportunity to meet potential clients – reward and benefits professional flock to the event – it’s also a great networking forum. This year was no exception – The Business Design Centre in London was buzzing with representatives from every aspect of the industry for two full days last week.

The exhibition hall with packed with stands from 100 organisations, plying their wares and this year three major themes caught my attention. The first two came as no surprise.

Firstly – as expected, the staged introduction of the new auto-enrolment regulations for pensions is a huge issue for employers. What started as mild interest a year or so ago has now become harsh reality – this reform is coming whether we like it or not and fines for non-compliance will be levied. This came out as the major concern from my straw poll of the reward and benefits professionals who attended.

Secondly – employee engagement. Whether firms need to educate their staff on health and wellbeing, help them to appreciate their benefits packages or simply to engage them on a wide variety of issues, this is now an essential element of an employee benefits strategy. Online solutions, engagement events organisation and sophisticated flex benefits platforms were all well represented.

Thirdly – and more of a surprise for me. Bicycles. I’ve never been very good on a bike since falling off in front of the postman’s van at the tender age of nine (the memory still lingers – probably wasn’t great for the postman either). Bicycles seemed to dominate the exhibition space. I guess this shouldn’t really come as any surprise as a cycle-to-work scheme ticks so many boxes. Corporate social responsibility – keeping your staff fit and making your contribution to reducing the company carbon footprint. Cost saving – with rising costs of petrol and the inconvenience of public transport, funding a cheaper method of commuting for your staff is a no-brainer. Cost effective and tax efficient – a low-cost benefit with high-value returns. One exhibitor has reported a 40% increase in uptake already this year.

I always come away from this exhibition laden with information and goodies and this year in these economically restrained times I expected there to be a toning down of the corporate offerings. Far from it – champagne and cocktails flowed from several stands, and had I not been driving home, I could have floated back! Cloth bags, rucksacks, stress balls, pens, sweets and USB sticks were in abundance. Apparently the Boots Opticians goodie bag was exceptional and was even described as an object of desire in a discussion thread on Linkedin…

As Mark Twain said a century ago:

‘Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising’

Read more blogs from Marcia Reid of Finchers Consulting