We’ve seen a huge amount of change to our working lives in the past twelve months, and with great change comes a swathe of new challenges for employers to face. We take a look at the key trends highlighted in Aon’s 2021 UK Benefits and Trends survey – and the challenges they bring.
Inevitably, employee wellbeing has been pushed higher in the corporate agenda as a result of COVID-19 – and we have seen a greater emphasis on wellbeing reflected in the 2021 UK Benefits and Trends survey. 83% of businesses have seen an increased emphasis on wellbeing as a result of the COVID-19 impact, with 87% focusing specifically on wellbeing for home working. Furthermore, 42% of businesses now have a Board member who is a wellbeing sponsor in their business. However, the wellbeing challenges are far from over. The long-term impact of COVID-19 remains relatively unknown, and businesses need to be prepared to support employees suffering from ‘long Covid’, by aligning solutions to need, continuing to invest in wellbeing, and encouraging employees to utilise the support available.
It’s not just physical wellbeing that employers need to focus on. The detrimental impact of COVID-19 on mental health has been well-publicised; a survey by Mind showed that one in five adults who had no previous mental health problems now describe their mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. There’s a clear opportunity for employers to provide support – particularly when one of the key drivers could be work-related stress. As with physical health, employers need to focus on investment and communication, but they may also need to address reducing stigma and creating an open and supportive culture. If employees do not feel able to seek the support available, uptake may be reduced.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a seismic shift in how employee benefits are positioned, with companies focusing on highlighting the total package received rather than purely transactional statements.
This has been best demonstrated by a marked increase in the use of Total Reward Statements (TRS). The channel has evolved and changed – paper statements declining with digital methods increasing – but the interest in demonstrating total reward has remained high. Engagement, awareness and employee experience were given as the top three reasons for companies’ investment – it is clear that there is a perceived correlation between employees understanding of their total reward package and their overall experience.
We have also seen a steady increase in the number of organisations developing an Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and a huge drop in companies who do not communicate or explain their EVP (around a third in 2019, now just 14%). Whilst the EVP is an inherently employee-focused initiative, they can positively impact businesses; similar to the use of TRS, companies reported that they have noticed a positive impact on employee engagement, retention and recruitment when they have a clearly communicated EVP.
These changes enable employees to gain a greater understanding of how their benefits package positively impacts them, and helps to reiterate their value to a business. By showcasing the full value of the EVP, it empowers employees to make decisions based on the actual benefits they receive – rather than their perception of them.
Although Total Reward Statements can help engage employees in understanding their full compensation, they are often an annual communication and don’t engage employees during the other 364 days. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in companies utilising technology as part of the employee benefits strategy; in the 2021 UK Benefits and Trends survey, 31% of businesses either have an app to enable access to flexible benefits or are planning to utilise one. The vast majority of businesses believe that technology and apps for wellbeing will positively impact employee engagement, and 48% of businesses are prioritising utilising technology more over the next 12 months.
There’s an opportunity for employers to engage employees through apps – not only can they provide a more flexible user experience than other digital alternatives, they also provide additional communication opportunities. Companies can align technology to their benefits strategy – utilising Well One Money to help to improve employee financial wellbeing, for example – and potentially boost both engagement and uptake in one.
Over the past few years we have seen an increase in companies adopting a global benefits strategy or guiding principles; with two-thirds of international businesses with either a strategy in place or working towards implementing one according to our Aon UK Benefits & Trends Survey. Depending on the scale of business and countries involved, creating a global benefits strategy can be an incredibly complex process – and balancing employee expectations with varying cultural, socioeconomic or regulatory differences can be a huge barrier to overcome when creating one unified scheme. These challenges are perhaps reflected in the uptake of a global benefits platform; only 9% of companies surveyed have a single global benefits platform, with a third of companies looking to implement one in the future.
As with many challenges, it is important to follow a strategic process to uncover the root issue and implement a solution. Aon have created a four Ds framework – discover, develop, deliver and determine – which create a strong starting point, whatever the challenges you face in 2021.