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How popular benefits have changed in five years

Wednesday June 22, 2016


Posted on: Wednesday June 22, 2016

How has the benefits landscape changed in the last 5 years?

The world of work is constantly changing, and while it is important for employers to prepare for what lies ahead, it’s also worth reflecting on what has gone before to see what has driven change in recent years.

Let’s look back 5 years ago, to 2011. What were the headlines of the day – David Cameron talking about immigration, racial tensions throughout the UK, and the issues of austerity and the economy. Five years on…..much of the same dominates the headline!

But back in in 2011 I also remember reading a Quality of Life survey, carried out by uSwitch, with the headline that the UK had the worst quality of life in Europe. So has that changed?  And if so, what elements of change have had a positive effect on the quality of life of the workforce? And more interestingly has the delivery of popular benefits changed as a result?

Many factors have affected the quality of life measure of the workforce. One issue cited in 2011 was the amount of time we spend at work, and the fact that now more than ever people are expecting to have to stay working for longer until retirement, and work harder whilst they are at work. This may mean we have not addressed this area.

The second key factor is the invasion of millennials. As a Gen X-er myself, I often feel that they are a generation of employees who are asking for all the things we (or is that I) wanted to ask for – more flexible working arrangements, more project orientated work, more demands in developmental opportunities and working more collaboratively, in a style based on a partnership rather than a hierarchy.

Work-life balance has gone through a transition. Britons work longer hours and take less annual leave than their European counterparts, yet flexible working is now widely accepted by employers in the UK and becoming increasingly mainstream. Clearly millennials taking key management and leadership positions is great news for us all.

Finally, technology is driving change at an ever increasing pace, with the ubiquitous nature of the smartphone and the ‘appification’ of the world. It is not just about having the hardware, but really harnessing the power of that hardware, typically through apps, to create a richer way of interacting. But does this “always on” status mean we are even further comprising our quality of life?

So have these landmark workforce changes impacted popular benefits?

Voluntary benefits, particularly shopping offers and discounts, are now becoming almost a pre-requisite, simply because they offer the fastest way for a new hire to be able to make a difference to their pay packet. It is gratifying, relatively simple to implement and operate, and there are plenty of players in the competition, which means there are some good deals to be had.

Flexible benefit programmes seem to less important than they were five years ago, most likely because the idea of a fixed annual enrolment window is anathema to the increased work flexibility that employees are now enjoying.

Reward and recognition has become more important, and this is linked in to the fact that people would rather recognise and reward their peers directly than go through a traditional hierarchical sign off process. Reward and recognition is often cited in staff surveys as the one thing that employees want their manager to do more of. More companies are implementing reward and recognition schemes, not on a traditional manager rewarding staff basis, but more peer-recognition based, and as a result, having a far greater impact.

Technology permeates all aspects of employee benefits, but one significant change is that when it comes to developing new products, benefits providers are now thinking mobile first. Whether it is a new voluntary benefits programme or a reward and recognition module, the app is becoming the default method of offering that benefit. In addition, more companies are offering programmes via BYOD or more tax-efficient salary sacrifice schemes that allow their employees to access the latest technology without the often significant up front costs.

Imagine, given that almost 100% of your employees currently carry a smart phone around with them, then with the right app, you have a ready-made communications network which would allow you to communicate, in real time, as often as you want, to all employees, a distinct subset, or your own direct reports – at little or no cost to you organisation. Now imagine the impact that is going to have on next year’s Quality of Life survey!

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