Being resilient right now means holding on to your best people. Laurie Eggleston explores how you can become an employer of choice through your employee benefits strategy by factoring in workforce diversity and allowing employees to tailor benefits to needs.

Research from Unum found that 40% of SME employees would be swayed towards a new employer if better employee benefits were on offer. Being an employer of choice therefore means keeping up with the changing landscape and meeting the diverse needs of different employees. Doing so not only builds resilience into your business, but also ensures you're doing what’s right for your employees.

Evolving workforce demographics

The government has signalled a push to keep or bring more workers back into the workforce, with a focus on older workers and parents of young children. How can employers make themselves as attractive as possible for different demographics?

Health and wellbeing measures will be key, as well as maintaining a fit and productive workforce. These employee benefits can be expensive to provide in some areas but there's still a lot you can do, even with a restricted budget due to strong competition in the provider market.

The government announced in the spring Budget that they will consult around expanding access to health assessments and we expect to see a higher demand for these as a result. Employers may therefore want to consider securing capacity with providers now.

The expansion of free childcare will also see parents of younger children encouraged to return to work. A commitment to flexible and agile working will help employers to attract and retain the best talent, in particular those with family commitments.

Tailoring benefits for your people

Tailoring your benefits strategy to your workforce demographic also helps retain key talent and build resilience by supporting a diverse range of employee needs. Crucially, measures such as the examples outlined below can help save employers money, whether through tax and National Insurance savings, lower employee turnover or reduced levels of absence due to sickness. These savings can then be reinvested to provide further employee benefits or to build the employer’s financial resilience.

Examples to consider:

Workplace savings

Pension schemes can be developed into a much broader workplace savings platform, for instance. This can allow wider investment options and let employees draw down on their fund while still working. It can also open up broader saving options, such as stocks and shares ISAs, lifetime ISAs and general investment accounts.

Financial education

Providing financial education seminars can help older employees understand their newly expanded options for accessing pension funds (and the potential risks involved in doing so). Financial education can also help other employees understand some of the basics that some might take for granted. For many, this will be the first time anyone has ever sat them down to explain what, for instance, a pension is. It can transform their understanding and level of engagement in their total reward.

Broader wellbeing services

Providing access to one-to-one expert guidance or peer support networks for menopause, gender dysphoria or fertility support, for example, demonstrates practical care for employees. Training mental health first-aiders can also ensure that people know who they can turn to if they need help.

Pensions salary sacrifice

If you're not using it already, consider pensions salary sacrifice. This can allow workers with a higher capacity for retirement savings to do so in a tax-efficient manner. Importantly, it enables all eligible pension members to save money (particularly so for basic rate taxpayers). Given the current cost-of-living squeeze, employees will expect their employers to do all they can to support them.

Flexible bank holidays

As a final example, you could consider introducing holiday trading and (as we have recently done) flexible bank holidays. These are particularly attractive to employees who want a lifestyle that allows for more time off. For parents who need more time off to cover school holidays, or older employees wanting gradual retirement, offering greater holiday flexibility helps ensure a better work-life balance – and happier employees.

Using technology to enhance a benefits strategy

Now, more than ever, employers need to consider the diversity of their workplace benefits, to ensure that they're relevant and will appeal to a broad range of people.

Technology can play a big part here, with new tools helping HR professionals gather valuable data-led analysis into employee needs and preferences relating to benefits. For example, we’re seeing increased interest in our flexible benefit insights tool and platform, which lets employees tailor their reward in a way that suits them, and employers offer and communicate a much broader range of benefits that would otherwise be practical. You can provide many of these benefits to employees at no extra cost, and use total reward statements to communicate the combined value of everything an employee receives.

A benefit insights tool will also capture and analyse data on how different parts of your workforce view your benefit offering and help you target improvements where they'll have the most impact. We know from our Business Outlook Tracker for example, that 35% of business decision makers expect to increase their investment in employee reward and benefits over the next six months. Understanding the level of awareness, understanding and appreciation of your employee benefits will help you to target any measures aimed at driving the value for money you receive from your benefit spend.

Employee benefits are a key element of a wider people agenda, alongside areas such as training, skills, wellbeing, inclusion and culture. By investing resources in benefits, employers can build business resilience while also doing the right thing for employees. Employee expectations have moved on from traditional benefits, but there’s so much that you can do to help your people and ensure that you're seen as an employer of choice.

For more insight and guidance, contact Laurie Eggleston.

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