COVID-19 – advice for employers. Read now.

Diversity and inclusion: meeting the needs of all

Advice and top tips

Diversity and inclusion: meeting the needs of all

Companies today recognise the business benefits of a wider talent pool and differing perspectives, from neurodiverse workers to multi-generational teams.

But with a more diverse workforce comes a more varied set of needs.

Organisations are increasingly viewing benefits through the diversity and inclusion lens and examining whether their current provision sufficiently caters for their unique employee population, from broader parental leave to fertility benefits.

According to research by Willis Towers Watson (Emerging Trends in Healthcare Survey), making policies and programmes Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) relevant ranked number three in companies’ top priorities for their health and wellbeing strategy, with one third (39 per cent) planning to improve provision.

Here, we look at the steps companies can take to ensure their benefits package is valuable to its employees, by being inclusive and successfully addressing the needs of the all workers.

Back to basics

Where companies have the opportunity to reinvigorate and reshape their benefits strategies – against the backdrop of the evolving workforce landscape – employee feedback should be regarded as the foundation stone.

It is only through seeking feedback that disparities in need and preference can be identified. By taking such proactive action, companies can ensure that their resources are redirected to benefits that are truly valuable to employees, rather than ones that are effectively redundant.

Inclusivity is not just limited to the types of benefits on offer – the promotion of benefits is equally as important. To encourage employee benefits uptake, benefits communications need to be simple, effective, and engaging to all.

Communicating benefits through different media, such as face to face meetings with line managers, email comms, posts on the Intranet and physical posters in common spaces, can help reach the masses.

Simple changes, such as consulting on benefits preference and bolstering benefits communications, can help companies effectively adapt their offering to suit need, ensure certain demographics are not neglected or alienated, and improve the employee experience.

Understanding the employee population

Research suggests a positive correlation between a comprehensive offering and benefits appreciation.

Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) 2020 found that 72 per cent of workers who were offered a full flexible benefits scheme, including voluntary benefits, said their benefits met their needs. This contrasts with just 39 per cent who were offered no core or voluntary benefits choices.

Where benefits plans met employee needs, employees were twice as likely to be engaged with their jobs (48 per cent vs 19 per cent) and significantly more likely to remain with their employer (74 per cent vs 46 per cent).

In order to forge a strategy that is valued by all – and subsequently benefit from the significant business gains – companies need to garner full visibility of the employee population and its different demographics.

With so many varying opinions, values and needs to consider, this can be a stumbling block for companies. But a good starting point is to attempt to identify subsets and take their pulse.

Take the generational split, as an example.

According to the GBAS research, Generation Z (those born approximately between 1996 and 2015) are almost twice as likely as Baby Boomers (born approx. 1946-1964) to say they would like paid time off work (21 per cent vs 12 per cent). Health care plans, meanwhile, are more important to younger workers, with 56 per cent of those in their 20s prepared to pay more for more generous health care provision, compared to just 31 per cent of those over 50.

There is also a clear generational divide when it comes to technology adoption and digital health solutions. According to the latest Willis Towers Watson Employee Health, Wellbeing and Benefits Barometer, almost half of young workers (41 per cent) said they would rather use telemedicine services than visit their GP practice, compared to just 16 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

There is evidence, however, to suggest that the appetite for health-tech services is growing and evolving and the generational gap is narrowing.

The coronavirus crisis fuelled a significant increase in demand for such services across the board. A survey by digital health start-up Quin found that usage of health apps increased by 37 per cent in the wake of the virus outbreak, and data from EAP providers suggested that apps are being used most by males aged 45-55.

This illustrates how trends can develop and attitudes swiftly change, highlighting the importance of consistently measuring and gauging interest from a cross section of the workforce.

Having an evolving overview of different demographics and their preferences ensures that no employees are left on the fringe, a culture of inclusivity is fostered, and benefits that are surplus to requirement are retired.

Striking a balance

Research has shown that when it comes to benefits choice, too much of a good thing rings true.

According to GBAS, 62 per cent of employees said that they prefer a moderate amount of benefits options, as they are happy to make choices, but that too many options can be confusing.

The number of affinity benefits and lifestyle products offered via flex arrangements is increasing year-on-year to reflect the discerning tastes and varied requirements of employees, with unconventional perks including paid time off to travel or study, contributions to employee volunteer efforts, complete flexibility on holiday and work hours and student-loan debt reimbursements.

Whilst flexibility and choice can underline a company’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity, it can equally be overwhelming if the benefits choice is abundant, disparate and unstructured.

Instead, employees prefer a shopping experience when enrolling in benefits, with few restrictions on how to spend.

To cater for this, companies should look to offer dedicated tools that support greater personalisation, freedom and control over choice, and to delivery on this objective, intuitive and dynamic technology solutions are essential.

According to the GBAS report, more than half of workers (54 per cent) felt a single online platform, allowing them to review and manage their benefits, would help them most in making benefit decisions, whilst a third (36 per cent) also cited a desire for online materials to help them better understand their available options.

Companies should bear in mind that different platforms are favoured by different populations.

For example, more than half of Gen Z employees (51 per cent) were found to favour exclusive online communication, while this is true for less than one in four (23 per cent) Baby Boomers.

For complex benefits decisions, the report revealed that more than two-thirds (65 per cent) still prefer to talk through their options, one-to-one.

Companies can help ensure high levels of engagement and appreciation by seeking views on best practice for benefits enrolment and making the necessary adjustments based on preference feedback.

Business benefits

It’s clear that diversity and inclusion will have a greater influence on benefits design in the future, in line with and in response to the evolving workplace demographic.

By listening to the views of all workers and forging a tailored and flexible offering that is truly valued by the wider employee population, companies can not only rid their portfolio of redundant, under-used benefits, but create a powerful tool for job attraction and retention.

After all, valued employees deserve valuable benefits – and businesses will reap the rewards of careful, considered and inclusive investment.