Technology for reward: Turn on to techno

As we live in the age of techno-comms, you’d think employers would be eager to embrace them for their reward and benefits systems, yet it seems HR is reluctant to turn on to techno.

Integrating the latest technology into a reward package can boost accessibility, understanding and, more importantly, take-up, yet there appears to be reluctance among HR departments to drag reward into the technological age.

Even though the world around us is becoming more and more IT-heavy, with online shopping, talking and finance all commonplace, the world of employee benefits is slightly detached, according to providers.

Paul Bartlett, head of reward and benefits at Grass Roots Group, says: “The consumer experience is moving on very quickly, and this now needs to be built into benefits. This is what employees are used to outside of work, so static total reward sites don’t do the trick.”

And, potentially, it is a lack of marketing knowledge within HR and reward departments that is to blame for the slow response to technology, adds Bartlett.

“Some [reward teams] don’t understand the marketing needs of benefits, but once you have the marketing view that it is necessary to communicate in an interesting and engaging way, employers will understand that it is technology that matches this objective,” he says.

Changing times

But things are starting to change; the economic downturn has forced companies to rely on reward, in the absence of available cash, to motivate and encourage staff, and technology can play a crucial role in making staff aware of the true value of their benefits.

First, employers need to look into using internet portals that pull benefits onto one site with up-to-date data, allowing staff to access perks and select changes at the touch of a button, says James Markham, managing director at SBC Systems.

“Employees want one view of their total compensation with real-time data, not something that was inputted three months ago by clerical staff – that is no use to anybody,” he explains.

Messages that companies get across to staff, whether it’s that the share price has gone up or that the company is offering a 10% discount at Sainsbury’s, have to be updated as well. Much of the way we communicate outside of work is by mobile phones, texting or calling, and reward departments should look into making investments in technology that allows them to send reward-related messages via mobiles.

“People send a phenomenal amount of texts, so why can’t employers send information via SMS? Why can’t employees text and find out what their travel insurance benefit costs?” argues Bartlett. “It is this sort of technology that needs to be more prevalent.”

A lack of understanding, perhaps, is behind reward’s inability to keep up with the pace of technology, and many firms are still not making enough use of IT when it comes to benefits.

Yet incorporating systems whereby employees can be instantly contacted with real-time news on benefits, or at the very least view all their benefits on one site, are features that really should be standard among reward packages, and if they are not, employers should ask themselves why.

Case study: Azzurri Communications

Azzurri Communications has made every effort to keep its reward package updated with the latest technology. Having a fairly mobile workforce the firm decided that SMS text messaging was an ideal way to get hold of as many employees as possible with reward news.

Noel McGonigle, group HR director, explains: “We use text updates to encourage people to look at the reward website. We have a fairly mobile workforce, and most people have a BlackBerry or something similar, so e-mailing or text messaging works well.”

Where the pension scheme is concerned, the firm has used technology to help employees better understand the sometimes complicated scheme, and also take control of their own investments.

Their Thomsons Online Benefits pension modeller is an online system that allows staff to log in and monitor their pension pot at anytime. Employees can even predict, in a way that has not been possible in the past, what their pension will offer them in retirement with current investments, or select an amount they want on retirement and the modeller will work out how much they should be investing.

“Staff can see the value of their benefits and bring together all pension history and manage it effectively,” adds McGonigle.

Along with the pension scheme, staff at the communications company can see their flex package with other benefits, and also manage their selections on the same website.

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