In the past, technology to support employee benefits initiatives has often fallen short. But today a new breed of reward platforms has emerged that frees up HR time and improves take-up. Is it therefore time for practitioners to renew their faith in modern benefits systems?
Cast your mind back ten, even five, years ago and it was no wonder reward and benefits professionals were cautious of technology – miracle systems promised the earth but frequently provided much less.
The technology was often bespoke to the client and, therefore, time-consuming and costly to tailor and maintain – and even then it often wasn’t all that user friendly or engaging. Poor uptake rates proved this. In truth, technology providers had a long way to go.
The good news is that, since then, the sector has really started to up its game. The sort of user-experience-driven technology that makes social media so simple to use has now, at long last, been integrated into workplace benefits platforms.
The best providers now produce easy-to-install, highly configurable user- and administrator-friendly systems that work from day one – meaning that hefty implementation and maintenance fees are now a thing of the past.
But here’s the rub: while the IT supplier side of the market is starting to do its job in catching up with other areas of automation, in many cases HR and reward departments have still to recognise that these changes are happening and adapt accordingly.
40% still using spreadsheets
Our own research finds reward professionals still have a long way to go to catch-up. We’ve found a staggering 40% of both SMEs and large organisations still use Excel spreadsheets to manage their benefits while 35% still use individual platform providers for each benefit they offer rather than having them all accessible from a single, simple portal.
Why is this still the case? Lack of awareness of modern affordable technology is, of course, one reason. But I also strongly believe the historical pain caused by HR reward systems still haunts benefits departments today.
Add the fact that many think they're tied into existing providers and it’s a recipe for sticking to what they know best. Let’s face it, when people have been burned before, they tend to be far less trusting of new partners the next time round.
Not only does better technology make rewards more engaging for staff, but the simple act of having this system in the first place is a serious statement of intent.
An undisputed part of the EVP
This is a real shame. It’s increasingly accepted that the non-monetary rewards that organisations provide to their staff have a proven ROI and are now an undisputed part of the employee value proposition (EVP) – even among smaller SMEs.
Organisations that purely offer a pension and a small handful of core benefits are in danger of losing out in the race for talent, while modern health and wellbeing offerings genuinely ensure that both morale and productivity is enhanced.
Of course, this is all dependent on the ability and willingness of organisations to communicate this story effectively.
Many spend millions of pounds on the benefits themselves, but fail to invest sufficiently in technology and communications to remind their employees of the value that is being provided over and above their basic salary.
The new benefits paradigm
So, the benefits industry itself needs to help HR professionals see that there is truly a new paradigm. For not only does better technology make rewards more engaging for staff, but the simple act of having this system in the first place is a serious statement of intent.
It shows employees that their organisation really takes them seriously and that it cares about the perks they want them to select and enjoy. Now employees can see at a glance their total reward statements, they can see their benefits ‘pots’, choose what they want and can log in to sophisticated portals at any time from their own personal mobile devices to do all this.
But it goes even further than this. As Andy Dickinson, senior consultant at our licensee partner, Mattioli Woods, observes, better technology now takes heads of reward to a different level. “The ability to produce any reports at all, examine trends, vary offerings and see changes to take-up means heads of reward can talk about benefits ‘strategically’.”
The benefits technology sector has moved on. It’s done all the hard work for HR and benefits professionals.
In other words, it’s precisely because better supporting technology underpins modern reward systems, that HRDs can now model how they attract (and retain) specific groups of people. The simple fact is good reward systems now inform, help and devise future strategic decision-making.
At Mattioli Andy says the time to create and populate a benefits platform for clients is now more like hours, rather than the weeks or sometimes months it used to be. He says: “The ability to segment, personalise messages, drive uptake – it’s no longer something that has to be difficult to do.”
Furthermore, he adds that: “Retention, health and wellbeing, and engagement can all be influenced from a very cost-effective central place. If you’re still thinking ‘why bother?’ all you really need to ask yourself, is ‘what are your competitors doing?’ The chances are they’ll be looking to improve their EVP too.”
Where should we be heading?
So where should we be going now with this debate? The point is to draw attention to the possibilities for busy HR and reward professionals. We know they have many challenges to face and many issues they need to address. As such, we also understand that benefits systems can sometimes be seen as one of the last things that need to be changed.
What I would urge organisations to think about is this. The benefits technology sector has moved on. It’s done all the hard work for HR and benefits professionals.
So, given this, maybe it’s time for trust to be renewed and opportunities looked at afresh? We’re sure that lots of rewards heads would be more than pleasantly surprised to discover what a top-notch modern solution can do for them.
It’s not just employees that benefit, the business benefits too. And it gives reward and benefit professionals the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to be genuine strategic advisers to the business and leave the day-to-day heavy lifting to the technology.
Interested in this topic? Explore our collation of articles on how to refresh your employee benefits offering to better attract and retain talent.
About Ray Sieber
Ray has been the Managing Director of Zest Technology Ltd for the past 5 Years. The fresh approach to employee benefits, Zest is the next generation platform that helps employees make the most of their benefits package and enables employers to increase engagement, maximise take up and automate scheme administration. Zest provides the leading Cloud based software for employee benefits communication, enrolment and administration, as well as for Auto Enrolment. Zest's award winning products are licensed to many of the UK's leading Employee Benefit Consultants and Product Providers. Over 300 organisations in the UK are using Zest's employee benefits solution, making it the leading benefits platform in the UK. Zest Technology is part of the SimplyBiz group, listed on AIM since 2018.
Prior to joining Zest, Ray spent his entire career running industry leading UK or pan European software technology companies, mainly in the finance and compliance sectors. This has included spells at Thorn EMI, Data Sciences, IBM and Wolters Kluwer as well as running his own businesses and leading or being involved in two management Buy Outs.