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Going beyond standard benefits: how you can truly meet your employees' needs

By Sarah Hayles, HR Manager UK & Ireland at Alight Solutions

August 14 2023 - The importance of workplace benefits cannot be understated. They play an important role in attracting, engaging, and retaining talent - yet employees do not always see value in their existing benefits, while employers generally overestimate them.

In terms of workplace benefits, as we all know, mental health is at the top of most organisations’ agendas. There’s no doubt it's important, but according to our latest study, Workplace Benefits in a Changing World 2023 report, mental health was ranked as the fourth most important need for employees, compared to employers naming it their top investment priority. Instead, employees ranked physical and financial wellbeing support at the top of their list, reflecting a misalignment with employers’ benefit investment priorities.

In this case, employers should correspond their benefits investment based on the top-ranked needs. They need to recognise what employees truly want, as opposed to following the crowd and jumping on the latest bandwagon.

This being said, communication is key - employees need to be upfront about what they want and need from an employer, and employers must be receptive and pay attention to their people, as it not only benefits the employees, but the business as a whole.

The current state of play for benefit offerings

Our report found that more than half of companies believe they understand what benefits their employees want, whereas only 38% of employees say their employer’s benefit offerings meet their needs. Additionally, more than half (61%) of employers insist their benefits go beyond local requirements, while just over a third (34%) of employees agree with this statement. The current status quo here needs to change.

If employers can take the time to listen to and deeply understand what their employees need, it will positively impact many aspects of employee experience. This will not only improve the employer-employee relationship but also increase employee wellbeing, job satisfaction, retention, as well as employee performance and productivity.

Alternative benefits worth exploring

The workplace is constantly evolving, and so must businesses. Like employees themselves, a strategic approach to benefits is multifaceted. Leveraging the same benefits programme, and approach to communicating it, will simply not suffice across an increasingly diverse workforce. Employee benefits such as health insurance, dental coverage, or free coffee and drinks in the office are commonplace, so the question is, are they enough and what exactly are employees looking for?

Beyond table-stake benefits, employers should strive to identify other niche benefits that could go the extra mile in improving their employees' quality of life and that serve to attract new talent.

Some alternative benefits that might be worth exploring in the quest to boost employee morale, wellbeing, and lure and retain talent include:

  • Hybrid workplace autonomy - A welcomed benefit that we’ve been able to enjoy these last few years is hybrid working. However, the discussion around the hybrid work model has evolved. It is no longer just about giving employees 1-2 days to work from home, but about giving employees full autonomy to pick their work-from-office schedule. According to Jabra’s 2022 Hybrid Ways of Working Global Report, employees with full control over their work arrangement (where/when) unanimously report a higher work experience score (77%) than their medium (73%) and low autonomy (65%) counterparts. Employers need to rethink their overall working models to guarantee their employees are happy and are working in the way that's most conducive to them.
  • Fertility and Family Planning - While maternity and paternity leave is a statutory right, employers can, and should, offer more in this regard. From IVF to funded surrogacy, fertility-based perks are increasingly popping up and are transforming employment packages. In 2014, both Apple and Facebook announced that they would fund up to £20,000 worth of egg-freezing in an effort to attract more women to their workforce. Elsewhere, major tech companies are offering to fund surrogacy for their employees, with some companies spending up to £80,000 to support staff through the process.
  • Transport Allowance - Benefits such as parking loans and cycle-to-work schemes can go a long way in boosting an employee’s physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing. There are also commuting loans, which are interest-free loans to cover the cost of travelling to and from the workplace, or season ticket loans, which help employees take advantage of the cheaper annual fee.
  • Subscription Services - One thing people have been getting rid of amidst the cost-of-living crisis is subscription services - so offering these subscriptions at a discount, or subsidising them completely, could be a very small but meaningful way to support employees. This includes entertainment services such as television and music streaming services, meditation and wellbeing apps, or recipe box subscriptions.
  • Physical Activities - Companies can also consider subsidising a range of physical activities or creating opportunities for employees to engage in them. For example, companies can fund group sessions like yoga, HIIT or badminton. There could also be additional discounts for gyms, which will reduce monthly outgoings for employees.

Communication is key

At the end of the day, organisations need to take a proactive approach to workplace benefits to bridge the gap between employers and employees’ needs and identify the best mix of offerings.

A lot of it comes down to having clearer two-way communication that goes beyond email and applications. Omnichannel communication solutions, such as those using SMS, apps, shared hubs, as well as automated tools like chatbots, can be an effective way to create more transparency between the employee and employer. More than 3 in 5 (63%) employees also believe that individual advice sessions based on personal needs is another method that could improve benefit communications.

To truly succeed in this new era of work, employers must find new and innovative ways to future-proof their benefit strategies and offer employees a seamless, individualised, and technology-driven experience. This will increase employee wellbeing, increase the employers’ return on investment, increase employee awareness of and use of benefit programs, and ultimately aid in the attraction and retention of talent both now, and in the future.

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