According to Premier Foods, ‘work is a verb, not a place.’ What does this mean for workplace benefits?

Employers are currently facing one of the biggest changes ever in staffing circumstances with a division between those staff returning to the workplace and those continuing to work from home. Now is the time for employers to review their benefits provision. They need to consider the impact of working from home, the changing circumstances surrounding recruitment and retention of staff, and what employees require in the post-Covid working world.

Changing circumstances

The changes over the last 18 months have happened both in and outside of work. Many employees have had to adapt their home to provide working spaces, and have had to learn to deal with a new more remote way of living and working.

The lifting of lockdown and return to the office has led to yet more adjustments with people having reassessed their work/life balance and considering hybrid working models. Many of the switches to remote life have continued to some extent, such as online shopping, and telephone GP consultations, for the sake of convenience and time saving. Likewise, many businesses are now considering whether virtual team meetings, especially where the team is scattered geographically, might be a better use of time and resources.

Most businesses will, therefore, now have a range of home workers, on-site workers, hybrid models, and shift workers, in any combination.

Review required

With all these changes in working life, the budget and review process for 2022 is likely to be particularly involved. Companies will need to look at how they continue to use employee benefits to ensure the company is a magnet for talent. The benefits package has a multifaceted job to do: attracting the best people to the company; keeping people engaged, healthy and feeling valued within the business; and retaining talent for as long as possible.

Areas for consideration

This is why reviewing employee benefit provision is absolutely essential. There are so many factors to consider that engaging with a specialist in this field may prove necessary but here are some general areas for initial consideration:

Be open and honest about the challenges the business faces. In understanding and articulating challenges, solutions can be found without making assumptions. A business needs to help staff to prevent burnout, and keep a good home/work life balance. It must attract younger members to the team as well as encourage experienced employees to stay. If staff work from home, the business will need to make sure their office space is set up correctly to avoid musculoskeletal issues.

Think about what employees need from their employer. The working world has changed, and employees have much higher expectations than before, and will often really consider the culture and values of a business before applying for or accepting a role. One way of demonstrating company culture is through the employee benefit provision. Focus groups, employee forums, and pulse surveys can all help an employer to better understand what staff are expecting from the business. Added to the challenges the business is facing, a list of demands, needs, and objectives starts to grow.

Would NHS provision help quicker returns to work? The NHS is fabulous; but it has its challenges, which have been amplified by Covid. While the NHS may be the first choice for life-threatening conditions, long-term and debilitating conditions may be treated more efficiently elsewhere. A quick diagnosis and quick treatment can help employees return to work more quickly. Employers need to consider if the business could cope if a key member of staff was absent for a period of time, or if they needed rehabilitation or other support to return to work.

Consider the changing demands of employee benefits. The areas of life with which staff expect or require support are changing. Employers need to be forward-thinking in their decisions about benefits packages. Some areas that are increasing in popularity are fertility, reproductive health, menopause support, gender dysphoria, carer responsibilities, and neurodiversity support. These need to be considered when reviewing benefits.

Finding the best provision

Having formulated ideas on what the business needs from the benefits package, there are also considerations about which companies to partner with to help implement them:

  • Corporate responsibility. Companies should look at their own culture and ethos and find a benefits provider that matches their way of thinking. This may include their philosophy on environmental concerns and measures to improve their impact on the planet.
  • Education and prevention. It is important to look at the wider support on offer. As well as considering the insurance protection aspect of a group risk policy, for example, a business should see if there is support offered for staff to help to educate them on health, wellbeing, and prevention.
  • Whole of your workforce. Even if the actual insurance policy only covers certain members of staff, there may be the option to offer something to all employees, such as an employee assistance programme, or virtual GP.
  • Online provision. Companies are using technology more and more as an enabler to their solutions. This can make things easier and quicker for members, so it is important to consider this capability.
  • Communication. Look for a company able to support the business in communicating benefits to staff. Keeping staff engaged and fully aware of what is available to them can be ongoing as new features are launched, or simply with reminders of elements of the cover that they may have forgotten.
  • Management information. The ability to provide management information is important for future discussions around utilisation. A good understanding of the policy usage can be included in the ongoing decision-making process.

Budget and return

All of this is over and above budgetary considerations and return on investment. There is a lot to take into account in benefits provision – from getting the best out of employees to ‘doing the right thing’. Adding in all the broader factors will help to ensure that the business is providing not just an affordable benefits package but one that offers best value for money, as well as supporting business objectives, from recruitment and retention to increasing engagement and productivity.