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Taking a holistic approach to employee benefits programmes

Tuesday, 9 March, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way people work, perhaps irrevocably. The health and wellbeing lessons we have learned during this last year are likely to inform our approach to employee benefits long into the future. Before the pandemic, looking at each employee benefit separately was less than ideal, but now it is more essential than ever to take a holistic view of corporate benefits programmes.

Critical events such as a pandemic can significantly change people’s behaviour, mindset and needs. Trying to adapt each benefit separately to suit these changed needs of employees will deliver substandard services and experiences if their interdependencies are not considered.

Personal experience

Perhaps it may help you understand my approach to employee benefits if I tell you a little bit about me. I am passionate about fitness and wellbeing. It all started after I had to have a back operation for two slipped discs around eleven years ago. I went through back surgery and recovery was a difficult process. After six months, I was back up and walking, and started working with fitness experts to regain strength in my body. I started weightlifting a few years ago and it has been my passion ever since. The lockdown has made this quite difficult as gyms had to close, but I have continued to train at home. Unfortunately, I am now scheduled for a knee replacement in February.

Due to these significant events, I generally try to focus on my wellbeing inside and outside work. To me, this involves considering five interrelated components: training, recovery, nutrition, mindset and sleep. Each is important to achieve the overall goal and every one affects the others. This has made me consider employee benefits in a new light, including how they are offered and communicated to employees.

The traditional approach

Employers usually set up individual benefits and tweak them over time. These benefits may then be reviewed individually for suitability but not often collectively as part of an overall benefits package. While the main aspects rarely change much over the years, the company’s employee demographic usually does. This often creates some calibration issues that are difficult to overcome, and raises the question of whether flexibility and choice are enough to make a product suitable for both younger and older employees. The fact that products are treated separately without considering the rest of the environment exacerbates the problem.

The Covid-19 challenges

Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, our minds inevitably focus on what employees are going through. Some of the issues may be Covid-related, but others may just reflect challenges that our workforce have always faced but that have never properly been addressed. That could be the difficulty of looking after elderly parents or young children, a problem which is now compounded by Covid-19, with questions around the provisions for care and support for families. Mental health issues are now more prevalent than ever, and we are really only starting to see what this means for our workforce. We have always talked about personalisation in our industry, but can we honestly say we have achieved this?

Lessons learned

I like to think about a company as an ecosystem: a complex system of diverse sets of individuals, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships with a myriad of connecting points and interdependencies.

If the last year has taught us anything it is that:

  • We need to be better at communicating with employees and with each other
  • We need to plan more holistically – how have business objectives and goals shifted in light of Covid and have we realigned the benefits we offer in light of this? 
  • We need to view our benefits systems through the lens of employees, understanding how they are linked, what tangible benefit they are providing and how we can communicate them effectively
  • We are not exploring analytics enough, whether that is predictive modelling for cost control or understanding behaviour
  • The integration of benefits is also missing i.e., a thorough understanding of how they fit together and what they can do for employees
  • We probably know more about our employees now than ever before, since Covid-19 has generally forced employees to have more intimate and personal conversations with their employer about personal situations. Sadly, a crisis was necessary to enable this shift, but there is an opportunity here to use this information to reshape our benefit strategies to better suit employees’ needs

I like to think that employee benefits are not a product, but a solution that meets the unique needs of both employers and employees and considers the organisation holistically. 

We need to think outside the box. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that in a second the world can change, and we need to be ready to adapt.

For further information, please contact: 

Saba Haran, VP, Employee Benefits
M +44 (0)7425 616647