How can voluntary benefits support organisational culture during a time of dramatic change?

Need to know:

  • Voluntary benefits can help to support an organisation’s purpose: by placing a focus on environmentally-friendly schemes, such as electric car schemes or bikes for work for example, employees can share the employers goals.
  • Access to affordable health and wellbeing benefits, such as health cash plans, will help reiterate that an employer cares about employee wellbeing.
  • Retail and leisure discount schemes can help employees save money on their everyday purchases. which will be seen as a highly valuable benefit for many employees facing difficult financial times.

Keeping employees engaged and motivated in trying times is truly a challenge; 2020 has raised the bar for this in a way that no-one could have predicted. While in recent years, the topic of an agile and truly flexible workforce was slowly gaining momentum, the reaction to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic meant that many workforces had to become remote overnight. For some organisations, it is the physical workplace that helps to form their organisational culture and sense of camaraderie among colleagues, extending further than the old water cooler chat adage. Without the opportunity for face-to-face communication, can employers use their voluntary benefits to support organisational culture across a dispersed workforce and boost motivation?

Purpose-led organisations

The movement within many organisations to become purpose-led has been steadily growing; it is not enough just to make profit, organisations want to stand for something that is meaningful to their local communities and the wider world. This is a key factor in many employers’ reward strategies, and they utilise benefits to support their purpose. Richard Morgan, principal at Aon, explains: “We’ve seen a massive increase in organisation being purpose-led and working out if there’s anything specific to their organisation that they can help support, and then it filters down into benefits. The environment is a really obvious one, where more and more organisations that have been setting carbon-neutral targets talk about the things they can do as an organisation to reduce carbon emissions.”

This goal is then shared with employees through things such as electric car salary sacrifice schemes. “[These] schemes have had a resurgence over the last few months,” says Morgan. “We’ve seen more and more [organisations] want to put those in because it helps people get polluting cars off the road, but saves them money at the same time because of the significant tax break on electric cars. The same goes for [bikes-for-work] schemes.”

Healthy support

Bikes-for-work schemes hold a two-pronged advantage for employees in providing a non-polluting commuting option and also a great form of exercise. Looking after the health and wellbeing of employees during a period of such turbulence helps feed into a supportive organisational culture. Employers have lots of options within a voluntary benefits sphere around how to support health and wellbeing, but one of the most popular options is a health cash plan. Simon Moyle, commercial and strategy director at Vivup, says: “Health cash plans are very valuable products. It’s similar to when a washing machine breaks unexpectedly; if you suddenly have to pay out for dental work or new glasses, it can be completely unexpected and a high burden. A health cash plan, whether it be one that the employer funds or opens up as a voluntary benefit, makes a big difference. It just shows a high level of care, because every time a member of staff uses a benefit like that, they remember their employer.”

The call to work from home for a large proportion of workforces presents both mental and physical wellbeing issues; many employers already have great benefits in place, so it may be a case of reminding employees what they have at their disposal, and exactly what the benefits entail. “What we’ve been finding is that most organisations do provide a lot of things for employees already, but the employees don’t know about them and some are hidden away with other benefits,” says Morgan. “With health cash plans, do people know, for example, that it might include some physio sessions so that if [they] are struggling with some back problems, [they] can avail of the cash plan benefits to help sort that out through things like virtual physio consultations.”

Sense of goodwill

There is no question that every little helps during trying times, and workplace voluntary benefits discount schemes are a good example of this. Jacqueline Benjamin, co-founder and director at Xexec, says: “There are a lot of benefits that are amazing for this current environment, so we’ve seen a real surge in trying to offer this to employees. It’s good for messaging and for branding, but things that [employers] really want us to focus on are technology discounts. We’ve seen a huge shift in spending on the platform, a huge demand for technology, and the discounts are so good.”

When an employee buys something through an employer’s scheme, it is more meaningful and creates goodwill in the organisation, adds Benjamin.

The discounts available and savings made through voluntary benefits schemes on everyday items should be continually promoted, especially when these are for everyday items such as supermarket shopping, says Moyle. “Lifestyle savings should be saving people [money on] the things that they would have bought anyway,” he says. “If they’re not, then they’re not really saving somebody any money, they’re actually pushing them to spend more which isn’t great.”

Benefits communication

Effective communication is essential to ensure that an organisational culture is kept alive and well when employees are working in different locations. Employers need to be constantly reminding staff of the benefits that are there to help them. “It’s very important to have employees engaged while [we’re] in this difficult time,” says Benjamin. “Everything is moving into a virtual world, so regular communications on Zoom, webinars and email, and showing how much [employers] care and what they’re doing for their staff, makes a big difference to the type of culture.”

Communicating the voluntary benefits available and how these can help an employee can be simple, but needs to be regular, says Morgan. “What people often forget with communication is that [they] can’t just do it once and assume that everyone will remember it, and in particular, remember it when they need it,” he explains. “The human brain works as a big filter, and we tend to only notice things when we’ve got a need for it.”

A communications plan with a monthly focus, for example, around spending or saving, or mental wellbeing, reiterates the organisation’s messages.

Promoting and communicating voluntary benefits to their best effect can help demonstrate that an organisation is doing more than just ticking boxes in its benefits strategy; schemes that help support employees’ mental, physical and financial wellbeing during a time when everyone is facing a huge amount of turmoil, go a long way in motivating and engaging employees.