Why the right benefits can help in the new war for talent

On-site benefits such as cafes or gyms only go so far in delivering an experience that will retain staff

Employee experience has become a watchword for employers looking to recruit and retain the best staff and avoid high turnover. But they need to do more than offer juice bars and gym memberships, according to Jack Curzon of Thomson Online Benefits.

“We are back into the war for talent, and this time the talent is leading the charge.”

These words, recently shared by analyst Josh Bersin, could not be more apt. We’re on the cusp of a new crisis in recruitment and retention, in part driven by a universal shift in work culture, which has seen the decimation of the ‘job for life’ mentality.

High levels of employee turnover is understandably unpopular with employers, who invest heavily in developing their people – only to watch them fly the nest.

For this reason, the past two decades have seen increased emphasis placed on retention, with employers going all out to differentiate themselves and provide an unparalleled employee experience.

Simultaneously, businesses have become more accepting of shorter tenures in roles, and focus on driving maximum engagement and productivity while people are still employees.

Make yourself at home

One of the first great battle grounds in this war for talent was the office. Early adopter employers introduced ball-pits, onsite massages and juice bars, developing the workplace to enhance the message that they were a fun, thoughtful and caring organisation to work for.

To play into the needs of their millennial targets, they turned the office into an extension of the home – both in feel (more casual) and function (being able to carry out personal admin).

The problem with this tactic is that it can be viewed as style over substance unless it is underpinned by the company’s values and drives performance.

A great office is only one factor that influences the overall employee experience. Employers who are serious about providing a fantastic experience for their employees need to look beyond the physical environment, to every point of engagement.

If employers want to deliver a stellar experience then they need to take a step back and consider what the top talent will be looking for from an employer brand perspective. What kind of employer do they want to be seen as?

One that wants to work them to their limits, regardless of the damage they do their physical or mental health? Or one that doesn’t see these two things as mutually exclusive, but wants to look after employees’ wellbeing to make sure they are working at their best?

Supporting goals

Employees today are grappling with a multitude of challenges – from stress induced by their 24/7 working lifestyles, to health concerns and rising household bills. They’re looking for an employer that will help them overcome these challenges, and go one step further to help them achieve their life goals.

Our recent Global Employee Benefits Watch revealed that employers are falling short of offering anything near this level of support. According to the research, over 40% of UK employees aspire to own their own homes, yet just 4% of workplaces will support them in doing so. The same number would like to get fit and healthy, yet less than 20% of benefits schemes support this.

Employers are clearly missing an opportunity here. If they want to attract and retain the best people, they need to start honing their offering to meet the needs of current and potential employees – and this includes caring for their financial, physical and mental wellness. The old, long-term view of retirement and health isn’t enough.

Taking an employee-centric approach, employers can develop a people strategy that meets their needs, encompassing tangible and less tangible measures.

If we take employees’ desire to get fit and healthy as an example. Employers could offer more nutritious food in the staff canteen and install standing and treadmill desks – but unless they accompany this with measures to help employees sustain a healthy lifestyle outside of work, it doesn’t quite ring true. Nor does the company have the data to back up what’s working and what’s not.

Sustainable performance

This is where benefits play a critical role. By including benefits such as exercise classes, mindfulness apps or healthy eating advice in their schemes, employers can add another dimension to their care for employees, helping them better position themselves as a great place to work.

It will help to move your strategy from health to wellness to eventually what Bersin terms “sustainable performance”.

Offering these benefits is one thing, but unless employees can access them at a time and place that works for them, it’s all fruitless.

Marrying people and digital strategy is critical. Employee benefits should be the digital extension of any great workplace, and employees should receive a digital experience emblematic of the organisation they work for.

If we return to the wellness example, forward-thinking employers are now augmenting their wellness offering with technology, offering wellness pots via online benefits portals.

These provide employees with an allowance to spend on achieving their own health and wellness goals – be this through drumming lessons, yoga or pottery – accessible to book wherever and whenever they like.

Consumer-grade experience

Speaking more broadly, employees don’t want to work for an organisation with antiquated technologies and processes, but one which is committed to enabling them to do the best job possible, while remaining in control of their personal lives.

Technology provides the consumer-grade experience employees expect while providing a seamless experience with the office. It is surely impossible to offer only one or the other and still engage people.

HR teams will also reap substantial rewards from delivering benefits via a centralised, online platform. Digital interactions generate data – in this case insight on employees’ engagement with their benefit schemes.

Studying this, HR teams can see whether specific campaigns are working, and which benefits offer greater ROI. They can use this insight to inform their approach and validate spend to the rest of the organisation.

Develop strategies now

As workforces become ever more global and mobile, defining people strategy and matching this with a sophisticated digital approach will become increasingly important – this helps demonstrate the culture of the business, and how it benefits the employee.

Our research shows that global organisations are four times more likely to be effective in attracting and retaining talent if they have a global benefits strategy in place and seven times more likely to be effective if this has been established for three or more years.

This shows that it takes time and effort to get there – it is not a case of the haves and have-nots.

If Josh Bersin is right – and I strongly suspect he is – employers will face a tough time attracting and retaining talent in the years to come.

It’s paramount that they start to develop their strategies now; consider what will make them a great place to work and how they can keep their best people a little longer and a little more engaged and productive once they’re through the door.

Jack Curzon

About Jack Curzon

Jack Curzon is head of scheme design at Thomsons Online Benefits
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