Which of the three pillars of employee benefits is your business neglecting? | Connor Broadley

News & Insights | 2nd December 2020

Which of the three pillars of employee benefits is your business neglecting?

By Matt Law

Employee Benefits

6 Min Read

Even Ebenezer Scrooge might be swayed by the strong business case for offering employee benefits. Time and again, studies show a clear link between a happy workforce and healthy revenue, via the likes of retention, productivity, culture and brand.

But many workplace benefits packages are now in need of sweeping alterations if they are to remain effective. In a November survey of 2,000 UK employees by Blackhawk Network, 54% said their benefits should be re-evaluated due to the rise in remote working.

When assessing the merits of staff benefits, it can be useful to think in terms of three pillars (though they all overlap):

  1. 1. Physical wellbeing
  2. 2. Mental wellbeing
  3. 3. Financial wellbeing

To date, physical wellbeing has been done fairly well. It’s not unusual to find gym access, virtual doctors, cycle to work schemes, and private healthcare on the benefits menu, while smartwatches and fitness trackers are still popular corporate gifts.

If your workforce is going to stay largely remote well into 2021, gym memberships can be replaced with online fitness class passes and apps while more fluid benefits could offer even greater flexibility. For example, some companies offer quarterly wellness allowances, so employees can refund receipts for classes or equipment that directly enhance their wellbeing, from ballet shoes and bike helmets to swimming lessons and personal training sessions.

The key to making sure physical benefits are truly effective is to make exercise part of the culture and add an element of competition. For instance, could marketing take on the operations team to walk, jog or run the most miles during a single month? Could employers offer to match charitable donations for sponsored fun runs, swims, treks and challenges?

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Mental wellbeing is a fairly recent addition to the benefits line up, largely fuelled by a huge groundswell of celebrity support that has helped bust historical and cultural stigma around discussing mental health issues in public.

Mental illness costs UK businesses £33-£42BN every year, in sickness absence, reduced productivity, and in substituting staff members who vacate their roles, reports MHFA England. And the pandemic appears to have made the situation worse: two thirds (65%) of adults with experience of mental health problems – and more than half (51%) of adults without – said their mental health has got worse during lockdown, reports the ONS.

Employers can look at services like Sanctus, which does one-to-one counselling for employees, offer free membership to apps like Calm and Headspace, and consider sending employees on mental health first aid training courses with providers like St John Ambulance. Other companies have found establishing mental health ‘committees’ to be effective.

To complement any such benefits, employers need to take steps to ensure workplace conditions aren’t contributing to poor mental health and get buy in and public support from senior leaders. Good communication is critical, too: employees need to know what benefits are available and how to access them when they’re needed.

The third – financial wellbeing – may be the most commonly neglected. Historically, employers have viewed financial wellness as a problem that lies outside their remit but an employee struggling with debts is unlikely to perform to their best ability in the workplace. Research shows that half of people in debt are also suffering from poor mental health.

The focus here needs to be on education as well as signposting those in difficulty towards legitimate organisations that can help people out of debt. Employers could offer free clinics with independent financial planners who can answer personal finance questions, as well as making online tutorials and workshops available to all.

Seemingly dry topics like pensions can be made more palatable (even attractive) to all age groups. For example, research by Interactive Investor found that 36% of pension savers, although not currently investing ethically, would like to be able to do so. Younger people were most keen on it, with 61% of those aged between 18 and 23, and 59% of those aged 24 to 29, expressing interest. Could you be offering responsible pension fund options to savers in your firm?

Suspect your employee benefits might be in need of some alteration? Book an informal, no-strings chat with TeamBC@connorbroadley.co.uk

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