One of the (many) things I love about my job is the variety of opinions that I canvass when speaking with existing and potential new employers. It is clear from conversations that I have with employers from different industries, locations, and who have varying employee demographics that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee benefits. Whilst some employers fully embrace not only a full range of benefits and the promotion of them, but other employers also simply see employee benefits as a box ticking and hygiene exercise.

A conversation that is now taking place more often than not is around, ‘What are our competitors doing/offering and how do we compare?’. To my mind this conversation clearly means that employers are looking to ensure that they are competitive from a remuneration package point of view which in turn helps to sell themselves as an employer of choice. Benchmarking is a great exercise to undertake but unless an employer is willing to take steps to create a budget for any potential changes to an employee benefits offering, is the exercise worthwhile?

Without a doubt, yes! The result from any exercise will either demonstrate what an employer has in place already is competitive or that it is not competitive. If it is competitive then this should be something that an employer shouts from the rooftops. Alternatively, if not, at the very least the employer has the information with which to decide on how they bridge any weaknesses.

Regardless of the outcome of any benchmarking exercise, the promotion of benefits and the implementation or review of any employee benefits strategy including health and wellbeing strategies should also be considered. There is absolutely no point investing vast sums of money into insurance related or technology-based solutions unless employees engage with them, embrace them, and value them.

Latest research from Aon’s UK Benefits and Trends 2021 survey, in which there were over 300 participants, show that:

  • 77% of the surveyed companies benchmark their benefits
  • Enhancing communications with employees is a high priority for 86% of employers
  • The top 3 priorities by importance to employers are:
    • Employee Engagement
    • Cost Management
    • Employee Retention
  • The majority of employers mainly use email to communicate their benefit and wellbeing support
  • 44% of employer have a formal health and wellbeing policy with 33% intending to have one within 18 months
  • 50% of employers offer financial education as part of their health and wellbeing programme
  • 35% of employers use face to face briefings to communicate flexibility around the retirement options linked to Pensions but only 13% offer employer paid financial advice
  • A big majority say their healthcare spend will be focussed on education and prevention
  • 48% of the respondents do not feel they are doing enough to support financial wellbeing and pension communications and are planning to do more

This data is then backed up by the Group Risk Development (GRiD) research that was undertaken by Opinium whereby more than 500 HR Decision makers were surveyed. Highlights form this survey are:

  • 69% of respondents think that the Covid 19 pandemic will mean a change in the way that employers support the health and wellbeing of staff
  • 68% of respondents provide financial support in the event of long-term absence (6 months or more) due to ill health, disability, or injury
  • 89% of respondents believe that supporting the health and wellbeing of staff has a significant positive impact for their business
  • 41% of respondents do not measure appreciation of employee benefits
  • 31% of respondents do not measure the impact of sickness absence

Clearly the theme from both sets of research is similar in that it appears that the communication of benefits and employees being aware of what is being provided to them, together with the general health and wellbeing of a workforce are the key factors being considered by employers.

It is very encouraging and refreshing to see that employers are taking these positive steps with the outcome surely being a win-win for both employers and employees alike. However, its vitally important that an employer engages with specialists to help them identify and deliver the health and wellbeing requirements of their specific business and its workforce, and the first step should be to engage with an award winning, client focussed employee benefit consultancy like Wingate Benefit Solutions.

There is something very satisfying about setting out objectives, and never more so than when setting out objectives for your business.

The next step is to make sure that every aspect of running your business is aligned with those objectives. And that includes reward and remuneration packages: one of the biggest costs for any business, and all the more reason to ensure they support your objectives.

Cost control

Controlling costs is important for every organisation, and particularly so this year.

Many companies will be starting their recovery from the pandemic, and as the government job retention scheme and support ceases, ensuring value from all spend is going to be crucial.

Now is the time to review which benefits are highly valued and highly utilised and a priority. But that’s not the end of the job. The next stage is to see if there are any cost-savings to be had. Talk to specialist advisers that have good relationships with providers and know how to broker a good deal for their clients. Products and propositions are enhanced all the time, and what was good value for your business in the past, might not be today.

Get value

Added-value benefits has become the hot topic in the world of employee benefits. Access to employee assistance programmes; support for nutrition, health and fitness; 24/7 access to GPs are all benefits that were historically bought standalone. Today they’re often provided at no extra cost within other employee benefits.

We find that many companies don’t know the detail of what they have access to within their existing offering. A good employee benefits consultant can tell you what added-value benefits you have, what you should be entitled to and – possibly most importantly – what you may be paying for twice. Now is not the time for superfluous spend.

Grow the business

Many companies will look to grow their business this year. This might be via new product development, building client relationships or finding new routes to market. And they’ll be on the look-out for specialist talent that can deliver on this. That specialist talent might well be used to, and expect, a certain reward and remuneration package.

Gone are the days when a high salary was enough to attract the best. Today, people that have the pick of the jobs are savvy. Your company will be judged on culture, approach and values. The employee benefits you offer are a tangible way to demonstrate your values. Benefits that support financial, physical and mental wellbeing will go a long way to help you get your first-choice hires.

It can be really helpful to benchmark your industry, and others, so you know what benefits you need to offer.

Some of these benefits might be high-ticket, so even more reason to ensure you get specialist advice on the value for money these provide.

Other benefits will cost less than you might think. Group life assurance, cash plans, employee assistance programmes are some of the most valued employee benefits available, and some of the best value too. But they’re not all created equally. Specialist advice will ensure the spend is wise.

Retain your talent

Retaining your staff is equally important to build a solid business. With remote working and disparate workforces, keeping staff engaged has been a challenge. This will result in people looking for grass that’s greener.

The first step is to understand your staff and what benefits they’d value. Look at your employee demographic, consider staff surveys, understand the utilisation of current benefits.

It’s also important to ensure the benefits you offer are appreciated. It can be a great help to make use of providers’ and advisers’ communication programmes to explain the detail of the benefits and how to access them to engage your staff.

Make employee benefits work for you and they can play a key role in helping you achieve your business objectives.

Four reasons to review employee benefits

Once employee benefits are in place, the temptation to tick the employee benefit box as ‘job done’ can be irresistible. But therein lies folly, and here are four key reasons why.

Needs change

Employee benefits that were once applicable for a workforce, even just 12 months ago, may not be relevant today.

Employee demographics change, new recruits come into a business, employees’ life stages change and so do their needs.

Benefits such as life assurance, retirement planning and healthcare may not have engaged some employees at a certain life stage; but once they have financial commitments or dependants, such benefits can be vital.

Benefits that were once seen as gilt-edged in a particular industry sector quickly become expected as standard, and employers need to keep up if they want to recruit the best.

Benefits change

The world of employee benefits never stands still. Some of the greatest minds in business spend their lives focused on how to improve the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of employees. In practice this means we now have a greater range and affordability of available support.

For instance, access to specialist oncologists, rehabilitation and counselling were once expensive additions to some health and wellbeing benefits. They now come as standard and at no extra cost.

It’s important to keep on top of what’s available.

Such benefits don’t just support employees, they can help a business achieve its objectives too. The right benefits can increase engagement and productivity, and help with recruitment and absence management.

Potential for savings change

There is potential for significant savings to be made with a regular review of benefits.

For example, employers can make great savings on their national insurance contributions by utilising salary exchange for pension contributions, which can be advantageous for employees too.

As health and wellbeing benefits are regularly enhanced, many now include benefits that employers will also be paying for standalone. For instance, an employee assistance programme (EAP) is often included at no extra cost alongside life assurance – one of the most popular employee benefits with nearly 10 million employees covered in the UK. EAPs are an increasingly popular benefit which are often purchased separately. A review can show if an employer is paying for this unnecessarily. This can also be the case for other benefits too.

Fees and administration costs vary hugely between different benefits, advisers, providers and suppliers. Just as it’s important to benchmark benefits with competitors, it’s also important to benchmark on costs to see where savings can be made.

Laws and regulations change

The Equality Act 2010, Written Statement of Employment Particulars which came into force April 2020, employment contracts, the removal of the default retirement age all have a bearing on employee benefits, and it’s important that the implications are understood and that benefits are compliant.

Every year the Chancellor’s Budget has a review of taxation which can affect the pension lifetime allowance. This can have serious tax implications for business owners and employees. Specialist guidance and advice is vital so employees have enough time to plan and mitigate the chance of unexpected tax when they come to draw their pension.

The onus is on the employer to ensure a workplace pension is fit for purpose. Regular governance is vital to ensure that it is, as well as to review appropriateness of investments for good member outcomes.

A well-managed employee benefits package is a great support to employer and employee alike, and a regular review is vital to ensure its potential is maximised.

 

 

Benefit promotion

We help you to understand the benefits available, ensuring you achieve the greatest value from the package implemented by your employer. This is an ongoing commitment from us.

Benefit enrolment

Whether you have access to our online portal for voluntary benefits or your benefits are provided automatically, our members’ helpdesk will support you in accessing your benefit entitlement.

Benefit engagement

We will help you get the greatest value from the benefits provided; this could be helping you understand what is on offer, making claims and guidance on any other queries you may have.

Motivating employees to improve their health

Offering employees access to health-related benefits and supporting their promotion through our member engagement services will help deliver success through reduced absence, and increased productivity.

Investing in preventative health benefits

The traditional comprehensive private healthcare provision is increasingly being replaced by more relevant, flexible and valued healthcare benefits which employees access more regularly to enhance their wellbeing.

Support for your employees in the event of the unexpected

Life assurance and income protection are the cornerstone of many benefit programmes and provide employees with the peace of mind that should they fall ill or die, their families will receive financial protection.

Unquestionably, COVID-19 has been a game changer in many aspects, including the way we work. Offices, shops, factories, restaurants, hairdressers (the list goes on) have been forced to close and those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home have had to adapt very quickly to a new way of working.

Businesses have adopted new remote and virtual ways of working and you have to wonder whether we will ever return to the “normal” we knew before the pandemic struck.

Whilst it may have taken some getting used to, I think on the whole people have shown that they can be just as effective (if not more so) than if they were in the office. This is my personal observation from speaking to colleagues, clients and friends though I know I don’t speak for everyone. Working from home certainly has brought its own challenges. There are pros and cons of working remotely, some of the key points are as follows though this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Pros

  • Greater flexibility
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Lack of commuting, travel to meetings (saving time and money)

Cons

  • Can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work
  • Tendency to work longer hours, due to lack of travel etc
  • Distractions (children, pets, partners!) – I feel for those who are currently juggling a full time job, and home schooling their children, this must be a real challenge

There is no doubt that businesses will need to try and be flexible where possible, when it comes to planning for the new world of working. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate previous working practises and develop a new innovative approach which works for both the company and its employees. Wellbeing has to play a key part in such plans and that’s why, for me, it is so important that businesses ask employees for their feedback and opinions on what they would like the new working environment to look like in future.

Lots of things to consider, and no doubt many firms are already hard at work with their plans. It will be very interesting to see how things develop over the coming months.

On a personal level, I would like a mix of remote working and time in the office. I like working  from home but I do miss the face to face interaction and that team ethos you get when you are in the office. Teams and Zoom are great, but there is no substitute for actual human interaction!

Understanding your business needs

We take time to understand your business, prepare and present a workplace pension reform assessment report which includes a project timeline.

Planning and designing a compliant approach

We validate existing arrangements or recommend a suitable scheme. We will advise on the contribution structure and identify other issues such as changes to employment contracts, nature of enrolment, contribution levels and salary exchange

Implementing recommendations and employee communication

We create and project manage the implementation to ensure you meet all the regulatory requirements.

In liasion with you, we will produce a communication strategy document, which can include the following:

  • Mandatory employee letters
  • Fixed and enhanced protection notices
  • Employee awareness PowerPoint presentations, with or without audio
  • Webinar presentations
  • Onsite presentations
  • One to one meetings and/or Q&A sessions
  • Employee support via telephone or email

The last week in February was a week in which the Prime Minister presented to the nation the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. There are still hurdles to jump over, things to navigate through and surely more bumps in the road along the way as we head towards the 21st June but this roadmap really does allow us all to concentrate on ensuring we are following the governments guidelines and doing our bit to help ensure we don’t head back into lockdown again in the future.

Whilst as individuals we are all planning things that we can do with our friends and families post June 2021, employers also need to focus on things that they need to consider as people return to the office, either because they have been working from home or placed on furlough. Just a few of these considerations are highlighted below.

Many employees across many different industry types and sectors have been furloughed since March/April 2020. These furloughed employees have likely gone through a roller coaster of emotions throughout this time and perhaps have asked themselves some of the following questions:

  • How can I keep a roof over my head and pay my bills?
  • When will/can I go back to work?
  • What will work be like when I return?
  • How will I get back into the routine of work?
  • How is my mental health and wellbeing?

Employers need to be mindful of all the above in relation to the employees who are returning to work and exploring methods and services that they can use and adopt to try to alleviate these understandable concerns and anxieties.

However, it is also of equal importance that employers are mindful of the employees that have been working throughout the pandemic also. These employees may:

  • not have had a break from work in the traditional way with a holiday abroad or something similar which has allowed them to try and switch off and unwind. As a result, could they be physically and/or mentally fatigued or burning out?
  • be suffering from ‘guilt’ in that their financial and mental wellbeing could be at a comparative higher level than a colleague by virtue of the fact that they have been working and therefore receiving a full salary whereas a colleague has not
  • feel worried about potential conflict with returning employees in terms of job roles and ‘who does’ what on an ongoing basis. Will things just go back to how they were or have things changed?

Undoubtedly there will be requests from employees to employers about potentially working from home and employers need to be mindful of how they handle these requests for not only the employees who have enquired about this change in daily routine but also the colleagues of the employees and what effect, positively or negatively this could have on them.

Finally, but certainly no less important than any of the points raised above is motivation. How will Employers motivate their workforce to ‘hit the ground running’ and help get the business back to where it was heading pre-lockdown? Pay awards and the like will be tough to give if the turnover and resulting profits are not there at an initial stage and offering additional holiday or time off as a reward incentive may not necessarily be a prudent step from an operational point of view.

For employers to try and navigate a way through the above conundrums alone is going to be more difficult than ever and therefore now more than ever is the time for employers to call on its professional connections and business advisers whether this be employment lawyers, business advisers, bank managers, payroll experts, employee benefit consultants to share with you what other employers are doing, what services are out there to help you and understand what services you already have but have not tapped into?

There is certainly no one size fits all in answering any of the above, so I encourage all employers to simply ask the question of your professional advisers, Can you help us?

If any of the help required from an employer is in relation to Employee Benefits including workplace pensions, please reach out to Wingate Benefit Solutions on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com and one of our team would be delighted to help.

What is financial planning?

We help you to identify and prioritise your long-term objectives, that will take up your time and money throughout your lifetime. We empower you to make informed decisions about your money that will help achieve these goals.

How can you help me with my financial goals?

We work with you to create a plan which enables you to achieve financial independence. We then review and maintain this plan to to provide you with peace of mind that you have enough resources, and are “on track”.

How much is enough?

We use sophisticated cashflow planning software to model your lifetime income and financial resources. This helps us to make appropriate recommendations that maximise your chances of living the life you want to, without the worries that you could run out of money.