What can benefits technology tell an employer about its workforce?

Need to know:

  • Enriching benefits data with information from other sources can help employers create personalised benefit offerings.
  • Low take-up rates do not always indicate a benefit is not popular: it may need an awareness or education campaign to boost engagement.
  • Data enables organisations to take a more agile approach to benefits, adjusting what is available and how it is marketed as employee needs change.

Technology has transformed the way employees interact with their benefits, enabling much greater engagement. It also benefits employers, with the data giving a much deeper insight into the workforce.

Several different types of benefit technology are available. Alongside benefits platforms that allow employees to take out and manage different products, many organisations’ intranet sites contain information on benefits. This could be product specific or more general information such as mental health tips or financial wellbeing advice.

The benefits themselves will often have their own websites or apps too. Mark Pemberthy, benefits consultant at Buck, explains: “These will also generate management information, often anonymised, that can help an employer understand the needs of its workforce. Benefits professionals should also look to HR technology, bringing in data from employee surveys, payroll and offboarding for deeper insight.”

Workforce insight

The breadth of technology available to employers means they can gain access to a rich set of data. This covers everything from the demographics of the workforce through to the benefits employees use and the content they access.

Tapping into this data can help an employer shape its benefits strategy but also ensure the right policies are in place to attract and retain staff. For example, an organisation keen to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion, could use data on employee ethnicity to help it close its ethnicity pay gap.

Increasing value

Data on take-up rates can show exactly what employees like, and do not like, enabling an employer to finetune its benefits offering. Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at Towergate Health and Protection, points to data on voluntary benefits as an example. “If a voluntary benefit proves particularly popular with employees, an employer may want to consider funding it for employees,” she explains.

This approach can be taken a step further by bringing in other data sources, according to David Kirk, growth leader, technology at Aon. “One size fails all,” he says. “By using data on usage and adding in other information such as employee age and personal details, and broader economic factors like inflation figures, organisations can create a much more personalised benefits offering. This improves retention by making employees feel cared for and that they belong.”

Identifying gaps

Take-up rates are not always an indication of a benefit’s popularity. In some instances, they can show that something is preventing employees from engaging with the benefit.

To illustrate this, John Kostoulas, vice president analyst at Gartner HR, points to the findings of its research, The future of wellbeing strategy, which was published in December 2021. “We found that although 96% of organisations offered mental wellbeing programmes, just 21% of employees engaged with them,” he explains. “This creates a gap in perception, where the employer is offering a benefit but employees don’t value it.”

Where these gaps exist, intervention from the benefits team may be necessary. “It could be down to communication or it may be that there’s a lack of understanding about a particular benefit,” says Clark. “A marketing campaign, education or even something as simple as providing a contact number could turn round low engagement.” 

Early warning

Tracking benefits data can also alert employers to changes across their workforce, enabling them to respond quickly where necessary. The current cost-of-living crisis is a good example of this, says Chris Priebe, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Zelt. “Employees who get into financial distress are likely to opt out from benefits, even important ones like pensions or healthcare, to boost their take home pay,” he explains. “Employers can track this and offer support to employees who need it.”

Employee assistance programme and intranet data can be a particularly effective early warning signal. Seeing a spike in the type of information employees are looking at can indicate that they need more support or a new benefit.   

Honest feedback

Data can also provide valuable insight into the actions of the benefits team and the organisation more broadly. By tracking take-up rates and usage, an employer can measure the effectiveness of a new marketing or communications campaign or see whether a switch to a new provider has affected a benefit’s popularity.

This instant feedback helps an organisation to be agile and adaptive, says Kostoulas. “It’s a much more volatile environment now so employers must be able to respond quickly to any changes in employee needs. Data can help them to do this,” he explains.

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