Ksenia Zheltoukhova: 2021 could bring an opportunity to reset benefits strategies

This is the year to carefully consider the psychology of employee benefits: having experienced fundamental shocks to their lives, people will be re-evaluating what matters to them, and how work fits in. This is an opportunity for employers to listen to their staff to understand what is of value to them, and reset the benefits strategies for greater workforce engagement.

The theme of control will likely come to the fore, as over the past few months many were forced to make choices between being paid and being well. Staff will expect to be able to tailor the wellbeing benefits they can access: from mental health support, health screening, to access to private medical insurance, particularly if the vaccine becomes available to more people.

Another theme will be one of balance, prompting greater demand for flexibility in when and where people work, as many would have had the opportunity to test and adapt to these new ways of working during lockdowns. While some might have rushed to remove location allowances as staff shifted to homeworking, employers need to do more to understand the value of flexibility within the total benefits offer.

Finally, the core need of belonging is likely to be of importance, as many crave re-engaging properly with their colleagues. Some organisations are holding back resources for staff events for the time these can be held in person.

To future-proof their benefits strategies in the longer term, employers should consider that many people will be thinking about the degree of resilience that their current job and skills provided them during the course of the pandemic. As a result, staff will be increasingly interested in what learning and development their employer can provide them with, so they can gain transferable skills for the future.

Ksenia Zheltoukhova is director of research operations, research, analysis and policy at innovation foundation Nesta