Providing employee benefits serves many purposes for organisations including motivation, retention and recruitment of staff. They’re also an important part of building an employee centric culture, where staff feel valued and looked after. There’s plenty of evidence that they matter a great deal to staff too.
Research by CV Library shows that 62% of employees say benefits are a key deciding factor when looking for a job. Indeed, Capita’s Employee Insight Report 2016/17 showed that nearly 7 in 10 (69%) would be more likely to stay with an employer that offered good benefits, up from 66% in 2015.
In a climate where staff are now the customers of the workplace and an organisation’s employee value proposition is as important as its customer value proposition, benefits are an essential feature in creating stand out.
So if there’s a big appetite for workplace benefits from staff and employers stand to profit from improved engagement and performance, it’s surprising that awareness and take-up of workplace benefits is generally quite low. Are employers doing enough?
A Unum study showed that although 58% of employees were aware of the benefits on offer, 28% said they were only aware of some benefits and 13% weren’t aware of any benefits at all. LifeWorks research amongst 500 senior US HR professionals, found that a third of them believed that unawareness and not knowing how to use benefits are the top barriers to utilisation.
And it’s costing employers dearly. According to a Cass Business School study for Unum, failing to inform staff about the availability of employee benefits is costing UK firms £2.7 billion every year due to increased staff turnover and sickness absences.
What can HRs do to increase take-up of the benefits their organisations offer? Of course it has to start with communication; frequent, regular and via many channels to reach every member of staff. But there has to be a deeper level of engagement to get staff to act and use the benefits.
Here are three ways HRs can help staff achieve that:
Make it personal
Think like a consumer brand and, if necessary, get your marketing department involved.
Knowing in detail the demographics of your workforce will enable you to understand their needs, wants, motivations and challenges so you can provide the right help and solutions. Ask them too what they want.
For the first time ever there are four generations of colleagues in the workplace.What will appeal or be of value to a single twenty-something won’t be the same for an older colleague with a young family.
Consider bundling benefits into packages that will appeal to different segments of your workforce like parents, grandparents and homeowners, by age or by gender.
Or by themes such as holiday time, food or leisure experiences. By targeting people where they’re at in their lives with the right offers, they’re more likely to buy in.
Make benefits part of the furniture
Embed the benefits into a wider engagement strategy, rather than see them as a standalone initiative or keep them tucked away deep in the company intranet.
Make them part of the workplace conversation by educating managers, particularly line managers about what’s available and appointing Benefit Champions who can act as knowledgeable peer to peer points of contact for information and advice.
Line managers can become key influencers by talking about benefits in team meetings, and in daily conversations and refer line reports to the benefits that might help them or be useful at a particular time, for example, moving house or having a baby. They too should talk about the benefits they use, even if it’s enthusing about seeing the latest film with the family using discounted cinema tickets.
If managers are seen to be using benefits, it’s a positive affirmation for staff and they are more likely to follow suit.
Above all, leverage technology to make benefits easy to access. Having all your benefits in on one unified platform with a single sign-on (SSO) that can be accessed via mobile 24/7, is a huge enabler for staff. Usability and user experience must be consumer standard to create an experience that makes them want to return.
An example of how strong this can be is that since introducing digital instant delivery, ticket redemptions for cinema and leisure experiences from employees has increased by 400%.
Celebrate the ‘benefits’ of benefits by profiling staff who use them in company newsletters, blogs, intranet and other communication channels, so people can see the positive impact that workplace benefits have on people like themselves. Show, don’t tell.
Evaluate and feedback
As well as evaluating the ROI of your benefits against your set HR objectives, frequently measure take-up and feedback to managers and staff.
If there’s a benefit that’s underutilised, but you can see a need for it, get line managers and Benefits Champions to ‘promote it’ and make it a feature for the week in communications.
Reverse psychology can work well too, by highlighting to staff what they’re missing out on based on the benefits they aren’t using.
Moving beyond one way communication and promoting benefits with a consumer approach, through targeting, creating influencers and making them accessible on a consumer platform will increase take-up and repeat use of benefits.
About Mark Malis
Mark is a Human Resources executive with over twenty years of domestic and international leadership experience mostly in the high-tech sector, leading corporate change, talent management, business transformation and global growth initiatives. Before joining LifeWorks, Mark held global human capital leadership roles with McKesson Corporation, Assurant Solutions, and Novell.