5 ways to future-proof your benefits strategies

Advice and top tips

5 ways to future-proof your benefits strategies

It is difficult for businesses to envisage if their benefits offering will be relevant in the future as it involves a large degree of ‘crystal-ball gazing’.

Due to external factors and the economic environment, there’s always a risk that benefits that are appropriate and fitting today no longer meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

But ensuring their benefits offering does not stagnate or become redundant should be a priority for companies.

In Willis Towers Watson’s latest Benefits Trends survey, almost two thirds (61 per cent) of companies claimed their employees highly value their benefits package and over half (54 per cent) said benefits package improves attraction and retention.

Looking at benefits provision through the generational lens and the economic spectrum, overlaid with gender and seniority of grade, businesses can ascertain accurate predictors around the issues that are going to affect people.

Here, we detail further what business leaders can do to futureproof their benefits strategies.

Go back to the drawing board

Businesses should, first of all establish, what sort of organisation they are, for example, are they paternalistic? What is their culture? They can then test strategy and design against these values.

This is a strong foundation for setting out clear objectives for their benefits strategy; why are the benefits there, what sort of benefits are valued by workforce, what goals do they wish to achieve?

Secondly, companies need to think about what their organisational goals are; why are they offering benefits, how do these benefits align with values, employee health, calibre of employees, or age demographic?

A common mistake is to talk about benefit strategy and then immediately leap into solution mode.

It is only when these basic components are defined that companies can gain clarity in terms of strategic direction and are able to measure the effectiveness of benefits or establish if the strategy will deliver for the organisation.

Consider the role of technology

The company perspective on technology is about reporting, reducing administration and delivering insight.

The employee perspective is about accessibility.  Technology must act as a strong communications tool, enabling businesses to integrate multiple systems or information to deliver a consumer-employee experience.

Employers are already taking a number of steps to enhance the benefits experience through digital means.

According to Benefits Trends 2017, almost one third (27 per cent) plan to create a digital shopping experience when members sign up for benefits in the next three years, and the same percentage expect to have a high-tech process for members when signing up for a healthcare plan.

Half of employers (50 per cent) expect to offer access to apps or new technologies for healthy lifestyles and to manage chronic conditions over the next three years (compared to 16 per cent today).

Tech can help bridge the gap between employer expectations and employee engagement – a key objective of any benefits strategy.

Shift towards product innovation

What’s driven the evolution of the benefits market is salary sacrifice and tax efficiency. Changes to these has shifted the focus to products and services.

In terms of the health and wellbeing agenda, there’s a huge opportunity for a raft of services that help people better manage lifestyle; but to be successful in the employee benefit corporate arena, these have to be either more accessible or heightened in terms of their offering, relative to what you can get on the high street.

There’s a particular opportunity around eldercare – and the structuring of a tax efficient approach to delivering that.

There isn’t anything on the legislative agenda that suggests it’s going to become as tax efficient as pension saving but the challenge is that many who are in the Generation X bracket still have younger and older dependants.

The range and variety of health screening to encourage people to take responsibility of their own health is an area of development.

Use your data

Without getting any level of data – in terms of screenings, healthcare performance, causation of absence etc – and looking at the why, businesses can’t take a more strategic view.

A disjointed, uninformed approach leads to high levels of disengagement, with employees struggling to see the value of the company’s benefits offering.

Without initial buy-in, a benefits strategy would falter and become redundant in years to come.

Data can offer invaluable insight and is the most effective way to measure success and identify areas of need.

It is, of course, important that employers are transparent about how data is gathered, how it is used, how it is secured, in line with data protection legislation.

It is not about purely advocating a data dashboard – but what businesses do need is to spend some time looking at their data to see what it’s telling them and what their real needs are.

Establishing a sustainable, long-term strategy is key

It’s more important for a strategy to be sustainable than putting a specific lifespan on it.

Longevity depends on the business; the volatility of their market and the dependency they have on external factors.

If a business has a strategy that’s aligned to business values and is relevant to employees, their health and the business’ aspirations for growth, and has clear overriding values to governance structure, then it is sustainable.

However, if it becomes dependent on working with a particular healthcare provider, then it will limit what the business can do.

Employers should steer clear from thinking short-term and tactical. Going to market with a view to managing costs is, at best, a one or two-year strategy.

Businesses may want a clear-cut answer to future proofing, but there is no-size-fits-all solution. A strategy will only be relevant if it makes sense to the business and its employees.