Why bother with employee benefits?

Helping companies grow
The challenges facing businesses today are well documented and legion. As an economy, we continue to fight our way out of recession, let alone showing positive and sustained growth.

Now it might sound obvious, perhaps even a little trite, but as business leaders and managers, none of us can do this alone and without support. That support comes in many forms but the most obvious and tangible form is our people, our staff, our workforce. Whatever you call them, unless you’re truly a sole enterprise, without people you’re going nowhere fast.

Employee Benefit Consultancies with integrity work on the basis of getting to know their clients, understanding what makes them tick and what they want for and from their people. Offering benefits, any benefits, to staff can be seen through any number of different prisms: generally parental, caring benevolence on the one; and engagement and productivity on the other. Whilst providing benefits just for the former is wonderful, to get real value out of these benefits organisations need to be thinking and looking through the other.

Companies can offer any number of different employee benefits. A pension – and things are getting far more complex in this area, but we will come back to that later; workplace savings; private healthcare; risk or protection against absenteeism, serious illness, injury or death. Childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work schemes, travel-card loans, employee assistance programmes, wellbeing programmes and more besides. The list goes on. But why do companies bother? It’s certainly not simply to keep employee benefits consultancies busy. But employee benefits consultancies are very busy looking after literally thousands of companies of every size, shape and sector who believe providing benefits is the right thing to do, for their people but also their business.

Companies are motivated to do this for all sorts of reasons but in reality it does tend to be a combination of reasons from both sides of the earlier list or prisms. They want to be an employer of choice, offering a competitive package of benefits that befits them as a company but also the roles on offer. Despite the relatively high levels of unemployment, competition for the right and best people is still strong, and the need to get the right and best people for the job is arguably more important than ever. When you need to fight, to beat your competitors and establish some form of competitive advantage, you want to recruit and retain the right and best people. It’s important to invest in them and their development. To help them grow and develop, because as they grow and develop, so does the business.

Productive employees
But to do all of that, employees need to be at work and motivated. So if they’re off sick, or struggling to get to see their GP, or waiting at the back of a long queue for treatment on the NHS, they’re probably getting less and less productive as the days, weeks and months drag by. Drifting to the increasingly understood state of presenteesim, ie. being at work but delivering nothing. Instead, what companies need is to get their staff well again and back to work sooner. That has to be in everyone’s best interest.

If staff are injured at work, it makes sense to help them to recover, to receive the most effective and appropriate treatment and rehab so they re-join their team, rather than spend weeks off work. Increasing the stress on other staff that have to pick up the extra workload or possibly adding to the company’s overall staff costs as they are forced to employ a temp to fill the gap.

These aren’t imaginary scenarios or worst case scenarios. They are everyday, real scenarios, that affect thousands of business up and down the country every day. Yet so many companies don’t understand the costs of these scenarios to their business because they simply don’t measure things like absence or sickness. They don’t have the information at hand to realise the scale of their problems. But measuring absence can be easy, and with a little imagination so can productivity. Production of ‘widgets’ sounds easy enough to measure, but what about quality, achievement of objectives and goals, success of sales and marketing plans; these all count towards measuring the productivity of people. But what about more elusive things like engagement? Well, staff engagement surveys can do a lot to capture these things. Their attitudes towards their employer and the things they perceive they do or do not do, to and for them. More engaged staff, who feel their employer cares at some level about them and their wellbeing are much more inclined to be supportive and work harder. Let’s face it, the vast majority of people just want to do a good job, be well looked after and enjoy a long and mutually beneficial relationship with their employer.

But coming back to one final point on ‘the why’, there’s always legislation. And the biggest current example of that is automatic enrolment. Over the next few years every company will be forced to provide a suitable pension for their people. Not only that, they will have to take a contribution from their staffs’ salaries and put it into that pension, and then they’ll have to put their own contribution in as well. To many companies this is going to be a significant change to their benefit and cost base, and that’s a topic for another article.