How to create accessible and inclusive employee benefit programmes

Advice and top tips

How to create accessible and inclusive employee benefit programmes

Successful benefits are those that are tailored to meet the needs of employees and are the result of careful research and effective monitoring. But irrespective of how valuable and useful benefits are, they are rendered void if barriers prevent employee engagement.

To be truly impactful and serve their purpose of boosting engagement and retention, employee benefits must be inclusive and accessible to all.

What do we mean by accessibility in relation to employee benefits?

Accessibility refers to the extent to which a product, device, service or environment can be used by anyone, however they access it.

Each and every one of us has diverse access preferences and so considering benefit programmes through a lens of accessibility enhances the experience for all.

Some employees may prefer to visit a doctor in person, whilst others favour virtual appointments. When it comes to benefit communications, some like to read the information whilst others would prefer to listen or watch a video.

Creating a wider range of employee benefit access choices has universal advantages.

However, some key groups of employees will have a more specific need for accessible benefits than others. These key groups include employees who are disabled and neurodiverse.

The Family Resources Survey 2021-2022 found that 23% of working adults in the UK are disabled1. Disability can be permanent or temporary and can affect any of us at any time in our lives.

Although sometimes disability is visible, many disabilities are hidden. Hidden disabilities include chronic pain or fatigue, epilepsy, digestive disorders, mental health conditions and many more.

Under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (in Northern Ireland) employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for people who are disabled.

Latest UK figures show that approximately one in six working-age adults are neurodivergent.

Whilst some neurodiverse individuals consider themselves disabled, many do not. It is important to understand that everyone identifies differently and to use appropriate language accordingly.

Neurodivergence exists on a spectrum and refers to human differences in processing which impact upon sensory experience, learning and social interaction.

The term neurodiversity was first coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. Singer had been diagnosed with autism but didn’t consider this a disability and instead held the view that all minds are unique and there are an infinite number of ways our minds work.

The benefits of building a diverse workforce are well understood; a diverse workforce brings unique perspectives, creativity and improved problem-solving amongst many other advantages.

WTW’s 2022 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey found that in the UK 59% of neurodivergent survey respondents reported having deferred healthcare, versus 29% of neurotypical respondents. Deferred care includes those who delayed or cancelled care on their own, failed to fill a prescription or had an appointment cancelled or delayed by a provider.

To attract and harness the skills of a diverse workforce and to ensure benefits are serving to promote the good health of all, employers must focus on making their benefits accessible for everyone.

Informing your approach

Establishing disability employee resource groups (ERGs) is advantageous for creating forums for colleagues who have disabilities to share experiences, receive information, convey concerns and help to educate other staff through informational events and awareness celebrations.

By consulting with disability ERGs, employers can gain valuable insight from those with lived experience on how inclusive or not the company benefit programmes are.

This collaborative approach can assist employers in building a roadmap for change and progressing on their accessibility journeys.

Employers must be careful though to guard against relying too significantly on ERGs; ERG members are volunteers, with other jobs in the organisation. There should not be expectation enforced on ERGs to advocate for change and be single-handedly responsible for improving accessibility on behalf of the business.

Multiple other stakeholders in the business including senior leadership must be responsible for developing an impactful inclusion strategy.

Inclusive insurance providers

To ensure benefits are accessible, businesses can request information from their vendors on how employees with specific needs can use their services. Access questions could include:

  • Are member guides and other communications made available in braille, audio and large print?
  • Do you have staff trained in British Sign Language?
  • Have you trained your call responders on how to talk to deaf and speech-impaired callers through Relay UK?
  • Do your facilities have good access for wheelchair users?

Importantly, benefits accessibility information should be clearly displayed to the full workforce alongside other benefits information, to give peace of mind that the company benefits can be used conveniently at a time of need, without there being a burden on individual employees to research accessibility features themselves.

Clear communications catering to all

When communicating the benefits you make available to your workforce, considering language and format and using multiple communication channels is key to ensuring the information is accessible.

Each one of us has different communication preferences, but the needs of some employees can be more specific than others.

There are many communications agencies, charities and government bodies which can provide a wealth of information on how to make your benefit communications accessible to everyone. The following examples are a good place to start:

  • Writing in plain language using simple sentences and bullet points
  • Thinking about use of colour
  • Avoiding acronyms
  • Breaking up content with sub-headings
  • Using videos
  • Describing images
  • Employing read aloud and immersive reader features

Bionic Reading, a recent innovation, can also help neurodiverse employees to access written documents. It guides the readers’ eyes through text with artificial fixation points, which makes them focus only on the highlighted initial letters, while the brain centre completes the word.

Although hearing aids are available at no cost from the NHS, they may not be compatible with business software. Organisations could therefore consider offering hearing impaired employees private hearing aids as part of a benefit package as well as providing hearing loops.

Inclusive team building

Remember that a team incentivisation approach which focuses on physical activity, such as step challenges or group running events for example, is not fully inclusive and will not appeal to all.

When planning initiatives to encourage employees to socialise and have fun at work it is vital to offer a range of activities to be relevant to everyone.

If using external venues to run events, carefully consider accessibility options.

Leaders must be conscious that not all employees like to socialise or network in the same way. Social events should be optional or designed in a way which allows some individuals to stay for a shorter time or fully opt out if they would prefer.

Accessible benefits are a fundamental cornerstone of an inclusive workplace

Prioritising accessibility in employee benefit programmes must form a key focus for employers; inclusive workplaces promote employee engagement, improve productivity and drive better wellbeing and health outcomes for everyone.