Business comment: Pandemic shines light on employee welfare and retainment

The past couple of years have shone a spotlight on the importance of staff welfare, with companies needing to think differently on how they support, retain and attract staff.

The pandemic has led to a sea change in feeling, and with job vacancies and worker shortages at an all-time high, it has never been more important for businesses to look into staff benefits and ensure they are fit for purpose.

Having the right benefits in place could make all the difference in attracting and retaining talent. Thinking beyond the traditional approach, employers need to address what their employees actually want and where they need support – both areas have seen significant change post pandemic.

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Employers play a key role in helping to support both the mental and financial wellbeing of their workers, both of which are likely to have been affected in the past two years. Having a meaningful benefits package that supports employees in both of these areas is essential.

Employees are increasingly revaluating what they want from their own lives and the support they expect from their employer.

The pandemic has in many instances reset the base line and that is particularly evident in what motivates people and that very much transcends into the workplace. If companies don’t make an effort to engage with staff and understand what would be most beneficial to them, then loyalty is more likely to be tested.

Even if you had been keeping on top of this before the pandemic, there is a strong chance that there will have been a change in both your employees’ circumstances and priorities since then, particularly if they have been and continue to work remotely. For example, providing ill health or mental wellbeing support will perhaps seem more relevant than a subsidised canteen or loan towards travel costs.

The evolution of benefits has been significant in the past couple of years, particularly in the acceleration of value added benefits. Historically you could have potentially expected access to an EAP (employee assistance programme) or possible bereavement / probate support for beneficiaries as part of a group risk policy. Nowadays it is more the exception than the norm not to have access to a GP 24/7, comprehensive wellbeing support covering physical, mental and financial aspects right through to things such as financially supporting ceasing smoking. While they are great additions from an employer’s perspective and really allow a company to support their workforce they are also a logical addition from an insurers perspective to be proactive in their attempts to limit claims.

Andy Eason is a director at Acumen Employee Benefits. Picture: Ross Johnston/Newsline Media

It is important for employers to be aware that in most cases, wellbeing value added benefits are already available within their existing packages, but they may be unaware of this due to the pace of change in recent months.

So how can you ensure your benefits are fit for purpose, delivering a strong ROI, and supporting your employees’ wellbeing?

Employers need to understand who their workforce is, what difficulties they are facing and then in turn, which benefits would be most valued by them. While in the past free office snacks and gaming areas might have been a pull, nowadays employees will more appreciate businesses that offer real benefits to support their health, wellbeing and overall quality of life.

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It can be tricky to know and foresee what your workforce wants. Something as simple as a home office stipend to purchase adequate equipment could make a big difference, so companies need to ensure they are getting that collective feedback.

The most common approach to tackle this would be the utilisation of a carefully crafted survey in order to gauge feelings, beliefs and requirements that are attainable by the employer. Once the outcomes are known it is the consultants responsibility to make recommendations to support improvements which align with company policy and requirements and the desires of the workforce.

With hybrid working here to stay for the majority, providers have been quick to make sure their products meet changing requirements. It doesn’t need to be a big onerous change to update your benefits policy, you might find a lot of what you are looking for, including options tailored to flexible working, is already covered under your existing policies.

The challenge can be to identify what you have already in place that works for your employees and business and identify what needs to be reviewed without compromising on the benefits already in place.

Flexibility has understandably been a key focus for many employers and while it might have been a novel perk in the beginning, now it is more being seen as a baseline assumption for your staff. A lot of the perks that are being offered in response to the current circumstances will stay because employers recognise that it's a way for them to appeal to the best candidates possible.

Thinking green is also key as the greater environmental focus by employees and employers alike is making the introduction of Electric Vehicle Salary Exchange schemes a big ticket benefit and a win/win employee benefit. The employer enhances their environmental position by making “green” motoring available to staff while potentially saving money on National Insurance costs. The employee in turn has access to cars with fantastic tax and NI savings and is also reducing their carbon footprint.

As uncertain times continue across all sectors with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, having the right benefits in place to both retain and attract new staff should be a key priority for businesses.

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- Andy Eason is a director at Acumen Employee Benefits

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