How can voluntary benefits promote a healthy work-life balance?

healthy work-life balance

Need to know

  • A healthy work-life balance among employees can impact engagement, productivity, wellbeing, and ultimately have an affect on an organisation’s profits.
  • Core voluntary benefits such as health insurance and childcare vouchers are a solid foundation for any benefits strategy.
  • Organisations should be innovative and holistic, providing benefits that reflect their own brand and influence an employee’s wellbeing, both outside and inside the office.

With flexible, part-time and remote working becoming increasingly common, it is clear that employees are looking for innovative and modern ways of fitting work around life, rather than the opposite. In turn, employers are ever more aware of the impact that wellbeing has on performance.

This is even reflected directly in organisations’ profits, as shown in Employee satisfaction and corporate performance in the UK, published in February 2018 by Glassdoor and Norwich Business School. This report shows that each increase in the review website’s star ratings for employee satisfaction correlates with a 1% higher annual return on an organisation’s investments.

Tim Stoller, director and managing partner at The Happiness Index, says: “If [employers] don’t focus on [work-life balance], [they are] missing a really key part of the equation that makes employees productive. Therefore, [they are] going to deliver less and business is not going to be as successful. Work-life balance is an absolutely critical component of making employees happy and making organisations perform successfully.”

How, then, can employers use voluntary benefits as part of a package that encourages a healthy work-life balance, while keeping costs low and attempting to cater to as many employees as possible?

Pay is no longer enough

“What this means is that what people expect from their employers and their place of work has changed rapidly and will change even faster,” explains Stoller. “As workplaces become more flexible, employees are expecting their employers to be more flexible.”

This is not to say that employers can forget about competitive pay packages, explains Fiona Hornsby, managing director at Paydata. “If [organisations] can take pay off the table, so in other words pay people fairly and enough, anything extra is seen as a real bonus.”

Get the basics right first

Before embarking on innovative schemes, employers should ensure that core voluntary benefits are in place.

“There are certain things that just have a hygiene factor; as in, [employers] almost have to offer them just to be in the same space as other organisations,” says Stoller. “For example, some form of private healthcare is very important, and things that enable people to have access to help for mental health issues.”

Other benefits that can be key to promoting a healthy work-life balance include enabling employees to translate a portion of their pre-tax salary into childcare vouchers. This creates savings for both the employee and the organisation, and can decrease the stress and financial pressure of trying to balance care responsibilities and work demands.

Rachel Stockell, senior manager at Robert Half, says: “The roles are not traditional any more, you’ve got joint or co-parenting where there needs to be a balance for both parties. Even if [employees are] working flexibly, the hours are long, so employers want to make sure their workforces are happy.”

Additional perks

Flexibility, childcare, psychological resilience and health form a solid foundation for any voluntary benefits offering that aims to promote a healthy work-life balance.

Once these provisions are in place, the options are open for additional perks that go even further, actively influencing and improving an employee’s quality of life outside the office.

Saul Meyer, co-founder of Xexec, says: “When we started there was a reticence on behalf of employers about getting too involved in terms of their employees’ personal lives, whereas today they are doing everything for them, so much so that we’ve seen the advent of things like salary finance and other such tools, which actually grab their salaries for them and make sure that they spend it in a responsible manner, which would have been unthought-of 10 years ago.”

Retail discounts, which can help employees save money on their day-to-day purchases, are becoming accepted, and even expected, as the norm.

Providing services in the office, such as nail salons and massages, for a discount price and with the added element of convenience, allows employees to look and feel their best, as well as having time to relax and step away from their desks.

On a larger scale, employers might take a role in ensuring that holidays provide staff with the utmost rest and relaxation.

“Everyone loves going on holiday, but booking and researching holidays can be extremely time consuming and difficult,” Meyer explains. “So, we’ve seen a massive uptake in terms of the concierge element. If you can add a discount element and actually save them money when booking a holiday, that is the ultimate. Voluntary benefits obviously focus towards discounts and perks, but now it is not only about that money saving perk, but time saving as well.”

Meyer also recommends taking an active hand in improving an employee’s experience during their annual leave, by providing access to upgrades, discounts and promotions.

“The more employees actually enjoy their holidays, the more productive they’ll be [when they return],” says Meyer. “And they’ll think ‘I had a better time because my employer provided things’ which is so valuable.”

There are also catch-all approaches to boosting employees’ quality of life outside of work.

“What’s really interesting is things like hobby funding and employee assistance programmes,” Stockell explains. “Not a lot of people have time for hobbies, or they don’t think they do, but if [employees are] encouraged to have a hobby, it will definitely help [them] and enhance [their] productivity and general wellbeing.”

The best benefits for the employees

With so many options available to them, employers might be forgiven for being paralysed by choice.

Mark Di-Toro, PR, content and corporate affairs, EMEA at Glassdoor, says: “It’s very hard to have a cookie-cutter approach, because work-life balance is different for everyone. To have a whole suite of offerings can be more beneficial, but also quite costly.”

Organisations should, therefore, understand what will help to create a healthy work-life balance for their own employees, specifically.

This might be as simple as shaping benefits around demographic metrics. However, it is important to take nuance into account, and to gain insight and feedback from employees themselves.

Grounding the strategy

An employer should also consider its own brand and corporate culture, says Di-Toro. “For example, if you work for a travel business, you would expect a generous travel package. [Employees] need to know what [they are] promoting, and at the end of the day it’s the employer that’s benefiting.”

“If you’re creating a benefits package and have really thought about your values, you are reinforcing your brand values through your benefits package,” agrees Stoller.

Once a benefits strategy has been created that considers all these things, this might be the end of it. However, there is more to ensuring that a scheme has the best impact.

“The most important aspect of this is leadership buy-in and commitment to treating staff as individuals,” says Hornsby. “The reward package should flow from leadership’s belief in doing the right thing by their employees.”

Without strong communications, benefits aimed at creating a healthy work-life balance may be a wasted investment, warns Stockell.

“People want things, but whether they’ll actually take them on board is different,” she explains. “The [organisation] may have to encourage them. It’s not just about HR launching it, but going down to the business managers for them to roll it out to their own teams as well, to make sure everybody’s locked in to utilising it.”

Both sides of the work-life balance

Many voluntary benefits are focused outside of the office. However, most employees will spend the majority of their time at work. Part of creating a strong employee experience is focusing on both sides of the balance sheet.

“[A team] has to deliver very complex and detailed work and they’re not going to do that if they’re working in a culture of stress and presenteesim,” says Hornsby.

Thinking holistically about employee experience will increase engagement, productivity and wellbeing, and strengthen the bond between employer and staff.

“Employees should feel like they’re not going to work, like they have everything they need and are set up for success,” concludes Di-Toro.