The Benefits Balance – what really matters to employees?

The Benefits Balance – what really matters to employees?

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the business of employing staff has seen a seismic shift in the power balance – the candidates are now in the driving seat. The right employee benefits are now a priority for businesses looking to attract (and keep) high caliber candidates.

Employers are offering a host of benefits from coffee bars to craft beers, free fruit to a fun-filled playground. With employee perks revolutionizing the workplace, what are the benefits that matter to employees? Which of the benefits, whether financial or lifestyle, help employees to choose or stay with a company?

The Buzz About Benefits

Employee benefits are nothing new. In the mid-19th century Cadbury Brothers provided housing and sports facilities, arranged works outings and summer camps, and negotiated discounted train travel for employees. Similarly Lever Brothers developed Port Sunlight as a model village to accommodate workers in its soap factory. However, in recent years, employee benefits seem to have enjoyed a new lease of life.

One study found that 80% of employees want benefits or perks more than they want a pay rise – this is a cultural shift that places greater emphasis on work-life balance than money. Furthermore, 50% of people say they will turn down a job if the benefits are not good enough.

For employers competing in a candidate-driven marketplace, it is clear that just chucking money at staff is no longer a way to attract and retain staff (although financial benefits still play a significant part). Of course, for many businesses, it is not financially feasible to keep offering pay rises and bonuses. For employers to really get the staff they want or improve retention rates, they must better understand what motivates them – and it won’t be one size fits all

What Benefits Matter Most To Employees?

Recruitment company Monster conducted research in the UK into what employer provided benefits (“EPBs”) matter most to job seekers. The study found that a health care plan topped the list of EPBs followed by more holiday time and then a pay raise. The study is supported by a survey from employment website Glassdoor, which found that 40% of employees value health insurance more than a pay rise. Other studies have shown that historically a pension was also a significant employee benefit, however, the advent of the auto-enrolment has meant that pension provision is no longer a point of differentiation – however more attractive packages beyond what is legally required, will be seen as an attractive benefit by workers. Beyond healthcare and holiday time …  there is no surprise to see work-life aspects such at family-friendly schedules, workplace flexibility, remote working and wellness programs also dominating the top ten in many benefit surveys

What is the right mix of EPBs? The only way to really find out is to ask. And this is important as businesses offering benefits that employees don’t want, are unlikely to get positive feedback or results.

The Best Employee Benefits From Companies?

  1. JibJab Media helps people to achieve an improved work-life balance with less stress by relieving chores thanks to a weekly laundry service.
  2. Basecamp pays for the hobbies for their employees and well as vacation travel expenses.
  3. Airbnb offers their employees $2,000 travel credit.
  4. Twitter offers three catered meals per day as well as holistic benefits such as on-site acupuncture treatments.
  5. TransferWise offers an all-expense paid holiday (although some may argue a holiday with your colleagues is the opposite of a perk!).
  6. Opus Professional Services owns a villa in Italy which staff can use for free.
  7. Allen & Overy have an onsite GP and dentist to ensure employees stay in tip-top health.
  8. Jagex offers free bicycle repairs to encourage employees to stay fit and active.
  9. CA Technologies offers an on-site childcare facility
  10. Visualsoft provides unlimited holiday time, and they do not monitor flexitime either.

The Benefits Disconnect

So 84% of respondents say benefits are essential in keeping their current job which rises to 93% for respondents aged 25-44. While benefits are now taking greater prominence in most workplaces, there is still a feeling that more could be done. The continued provision of EPBs is by no means guaranteed. There is an apparent disconnect  – while workers are still hoping for more benefits from their employment, many firms have indicated that they will reduce benefits in the future or not make an attempt to increase the ‘perks’ they offer.

58% of people believe they will work for more than one employer in the future driven by the lure of flexibility. With the pull of the ‘gig economy’, organisations need to focus on offering those benefits that will engage staff, while staff may be looking for benefits with added ‘portability’.

Of course, benefits become another staff cost alongside salaries and pension contributions BUT organisations should aim to prove that effective EPBs are cost-neutral or even cost-positive. For example, businesses allowing flexible working may benefit from higher productivity. Furthermore, remote working increases worker satisfaction and provides the company with access to a global talent pool which allows employers to take advantage of more competitive salaries and more skilled workers which can help to grow the business. Often, employees will accept benefits instead of a higher salary. A recent study shows that 50% of millennials will take a 15% pay cut for a job where they could have a social or environmental impact.

In terms of health and wellness benefits, Wellness Councils of America reported a $24 return for every $1 spent on company wellness program. 81% of employees also say that health and wellness programs favorably impact productivity. Again, this shows a cost-positive return for businesses. Health benefits also have been proven to reduce absenteeism which can reduce costs for businesses – especially in the case of sick pay – and businesses may also receive tax advantages.

EPBs are not just for the big boys

Is there an EPB sweet spot? A group of companies big enough to have the financial wherewithal to actually provide meaningful benefits, but small enough to know exactly what their staff value and to have a more homogeneous workforce? While larger companies do provide more benefits, they tend to be more prescriptive or paternalistic when it comes to deciding what these should be.

For small businesses it may not only be the cost of implementing a scheme, but also the administrative burden which is putting some employers off. However, SMEs do have an advantage – many employees would rather work for smaller businesses (they typically offer a more relaxed, flexible and entrepreneurial environment) and the lines of communication are shorter (and more effective).

Furthermore, some of the favored benefits such as childcare vouchers, life assurance and income protection insurance all offer tax advantages and can be achieved at a relatively low cost. If this cost is still too high, then SMEs can consider salary sacrifice schemes. 65% of people believe more benefits should be made available through salary sacrifice, with popular choices being bicycles, pensions and mobile phones.

And while many big firms are able to offer more benefits because they have a dedicated HR team in place to run and manage the benefits … SMEs can embrace technology to help make the scheme more cost-effective. For example an insurance platform that makes it easy to add and remove the cover for different policies and staff members. Some platforms can even automatically enrol a new beneficiary with the introduction of a new starter onto the system.

For more personalized benefits that really matter to employees, companies such as ‘Bob’ can help. ‘Bob’ is a business management platform that allows you to get in-depth information about your staff to create a healthy workplace culture.

For a more diverse benefits offering, brands such as Perkbox allow you to select from a range of rewards so you can personalize rewards accordingly or staff can choose themselves. From luxuries to practicalities, employees can make the most of the benefits that matter to them. The administration and facilitating of benefits is minimal to the employer making it a cost-effective time-friendly way to increase perks and therefore improve staff morale and retention.

By embracing technology to lower HR costs, SMEs have the chance to become more competitive and offer a considerable advantage to employees over the big corporations.

Looking a gift horse in the mouth … assessing the ‘impact’ of your auto-enrolment pension

Looking a gift horse in the mouth … assessing the ‘impact’ of your auto-enrolment pension

Many auto-enrolment pension policies are now approaching their anniversary. This offers SMEs a chance to take stock and reflect, but just how many will?

In many cases, simply fulfilling the obligation has been, and will be, satisfactory – just another box ticked to ensure that they are meeting the legal requirements. Put to the back of the mind and forgotten. But how many others will seriously consider switching providers?

There will be some who want to reduce the monthly costs paid for the policy – just like any other business cost to be managed down as far as possible – which for any business will be a key consideration, particularly for smaller ones. For businesses who view auto-enrolment as a ‘necessary evil’, cost was/will likely be the most important factor in choosing their policy, and by extension, whether they decide to switch from their current provider

Some businesses however may see auto-enrolment as an opportunity to improve their relationship with their employees. To improve their employee benefit offer. In this case, there will be a number of additional factors to consider, largely driven by their perception of what their employees want out of a workplace pension. The most obvious here is the performance of the investment itself – are your employees getting the most for their monthly contributions? There is a large variation in the performance of the UK’s workplace pension schemes, with some policies returning 5 times lower than the market’s top performers. This is a significant difference, so for organisations that want the best for their employees, might they feel compelled to trade up to a better performing policy?

There are several other factors that can be considered when you are focusing on the best possible policy for your employees. You may want to give your employees maximum flexibility with the policy, so that they have a level of freedom in how they approach their investment. It may be that your employers value simplicity, in which case you want a policy that is as easy as possible to understand.

What does this mean for pension providers?

How can pension providers ensure they are offering relevant auto-enrolment products to their clients? Research from Hargreaves Lansdown has shown that in 2017 more than 90 percent of people were invested in their workplace’s default fund. Understanding why this is the case is critical for pension providers who are looking to make an impact with their auto-enrolment policies.

Ultimately, it is the company itself that will be making the decision on which policy they go for, and so pension providers must be able to identify which organisations are sufficiently engaged in providing the best possible policy for their employees. Is there a particular profile of company that is more likely to shop around on behalf of their employees? And what are their main motivations for doing so?

Once this is understood, it then becomes a case of understanding the needs of the employees within these organisations, so that products can be tailored to meet these needs.

Are employees making a conscious choice to stick with the default? If this is the case, then perhaps it is the policies themselves that need to be examined.

It is unlikely that the best solution for every individual will be the same, so if the majority of employees are not choosing to customise their plan, it suggests that the level of customisation on offer is not sufficient to meet the needs that different employees will have.

Alternatively, is it a lack of understanding or engagement with the policy? This would require an examination of the level of communication received by the employees, either from their employers or by the pension providers. For employees to be able to customise their own plans, they need to be able to have a full understanding of the policy and the options available to them.

As with any government enforced scheme, it may well be that there is a certain apathy, from clients and providers alike, that this is just something that ‘has to be done’. With a greater understanding of client demands, however, comes an increased focus from pension providers on their auto-enrolment policies, which will lead to greater competition, more relevant policies, and, ultimately, improved retirement prospects for employees.

Who will disrupt the insurance industry?

Who will disrupt the insurance industry?

Disruptive innovation can hurt – if you’re not the one doing the disrupting. Clay Christensen Disruptors appear as a reaction to consumer dissatisfaction with the status quo, in sectors characterised by complacent incumbents. These incumbents have lost their way or at least have failed to keep their finger on the pulse of consumer expectations …. they have failed to realise which way the wind is blowing. In a world of multiplying customer touch points and rapidly changing customer behaviours becoming, and staying, customer focused is increasingly difficult to do.

Insurance is perhaps a great example of an industry crying out for a true disrupter at scale. Many insurance brands and their messages seem stuck in the 1950s, with key themes of family, duty, financial strength and fear, and often speak in euphemisms, rarely mentioning the products or the true benefits offered … and as a result their customers do not ‘like’ them very much, and this matters because, by and large, we all – either through compulsion or choice – have an insurance policy

Association of British Insurers data shows that the UK insurance industry is the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world. It plays an essential part in the UK’s economic strength. It employs around 315,000 individuals, of which more than a third are employed directly by insurers with the remainder in auxiliary services such as broking BUT how do you think the average insurance customer would respond to the assertion that … “insurance is socially useful – [by working in insurance] you can make a contribution to society”. A recent article argued that a career in insurance is attractive to millennials because it is ‘socially useful’ – that made me stop and think). Maybe there is change in the air!

In a recent FT article – Identity crisis: the insurers moving away from insurance [1] – the discussion was of insurance companies moving away from a conventional insurance ‘offer’ to more of a “services business”… the examples given were of baby-sitting services for people in hospital and counselling for some individuals caught up in a crisis – important I am sure for the individuals involved but somewhat underwhelming as a consumer strategy in the face of  – as the article expostulated – a fundamental lack of customer loyalty and a huge amount of disruption as companies like Amazon (it’s always Amazon) redefine customer experience. In this world the customer doesn’t want to buy a product, the customer wants a problem solved, and as Stéphane Guinet, founder and managing partner of Axa’s Kamet, said in the FT article: “The industry will move from risk transfer to more and more services . . . The future will be for the ones who can design and deliver experiences. The risk transfer will be ancillary.”

Will digital services finally change the relationship between insured and insurer? Is this the disruption that allows new firms to emerge or old firms to rise (phoenix like) to the challenge of meeting customers’ expectations with innovative, customised solutions, clear and relevant information, transparent pricing, 24/7 access and crucially build a relationship of trust. Disruptors want to make a radical difference – not protect the status quo. Re-envisioning an insurance business and brand … to become a more high-performing, customer-centric, future-focused company – the key is (as ever) to deliver the right solutions to the right consumers in the right way. A solution they value.

In a 2017 article McKinsey [2] laid out the advantages of ‘digital’ to the insurance industry. It argued 3 key benefits:

  1. Higher customer satisfaction and increased customer retention will allow insurers to improve profits in their core business and at the same time remove significant cost across the value chain, further increasing customer lifetime value.
  2. Longer-term growth opportunities will reside in innovative insurance products and protection services – from cybersecurity to products fit for a sharing economy or the gig economy etc.
  3. Digital technology and the data and analysis it makes available will give insurers the chance to get closer to their customers – and hence develop and offer more tailored products delivered directly in a more timely manner.

It feels to me that 1 and 2 are only really possible if a potential disruptor can get 3 right – putting the customer at the heart of the business is ‘just’ effective marketing

We touched on some of these ideas last year in our ESOMAR paper delivered, with MetLife, at the global congress in Amsterdam (You can find that paper on our website). In this paper we argued that companies that lead are the ones that shape the future, rather than just imagining what the future could be. To challenge perceived wisdom and enable a much more consumer focused organisation to emerge, businesses must envision what new future is needed for the insurance industry to survive, and then take a series of concrete steps to build it. If the goal is to ‘put a dent in the universe’ actions speak louder than words. Being visionary is not a vague abstract aspiration.

That Robot Stole My Job

That Robot Stole My Job

Should we fear the rise of the machines? Or ‘That robot stole my job’!

At ESOMAR’s, 70th anniversary, World Congress from 10-13 September in Amsterdam www.esomar.org/congress we will be presenting a paper on transformational change in the financial services industry, entitled…
Are you insured, Scarlett? ‘I can’t think about that right now… I’ll think about that tomorrow’. How MetLife imagined a new future for the insurance industry… and is delivering it today
In the run up to this presentation we will be exploring some of the themes touched on in the paper with a weekly blog post. We will also provide a link to the paper and presentation at the end of the Congress.

This second blog entitled … Should we fear the rise of the machines? Or ‘That robot stole my job’! explores the future of work and artificial intelligence and the implications for employment and society

Read the second of our weekly blogs by clicking on this link: That Robot Stole My Job