Employee Benefits Are Evolving. Are Employers Keeping Up?

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Flexibility is often cited as one of the keys to a strong employee benefits program, but exactly what kind of flexibility are workers looking for? Is it the flexibility to choose how and when benefits are used? The freedom to access them at any time and from any location? Is it the flexibility to create unique packages for each employee’s individual needs?

The truth is, benefits are complex, and so are employees’ needs. Employers have to be nimble to keep up. That means offering staff the level of flexibility they want in both their benefits packages and in the way they work. This flexibility is essential in the work-from-home era, and it will continue to be pivotal even when the new normal arrives for real.

Fulfill Employee Needs With the Right Technology

Employees want to be able to access their benefits at any time and from any location. They don’t want to be held up by technological or policy limitations that require them to fill out paperwork or speak to someone from HR, whose availability may be limited by office hours and workload. Now that many of us work on distributed teams, it’s harder than ever to simply pop by HR to ask about your benefits. Simplicity and flexibility are now non-negotiable.

During the pandemic, many organizations realized they needed technology to make employee benefits this functional. Simply put, it’s easier to react to changes in benefit needs and uptake when your employees’ packages are managed through a technology platform.

Personalize Benefits to Attract, Retain, and Support Individual Employees

While still the mainstays of many offerings, traditional benefits do not go far enough to meet the needs of today’s employees. The pandemic certainly showed us that. As the workplace becomes more diverse and distributed, traditional benefits will only grow more inadequate.

As such, we’re seeing more companies personalize their benefits offerings to support each employee’s individual career and lifestyle. Levels of personalization will only deepen going forward as organizations fight to attract and retain top talent in the new normal.

With more employees working remotely, companies will also be recruiting from broader, more diverse talent pools. That means they can’t assume all of their employees will have the same — or even similar — needs. Moreover, companies will be competing with organizations around the world for this pool of remote talent. A personalized benefits package can help an employed stand out in a crowded field.

Benefits pots, which provide employees with benefits allowances they can spend on a variety of selections, are likely to be an important option. Employers may even want to expand their pots to allow employees to select benefits beyond the standard set of perks and programs. If there is a gap — money leftover between what has been set aside to invest in employees and what’s appropriate to each employee’s unique circumstances — perhaps employees could be allowed to spend that money on improving their lives. Maybe they’d prefer more bespoke mental well-being support, skills development programs, or even using the money to enter a race. Whatever the case, it is incumbent upon employers to recognize the individuality of each employee and the applicability of the financial investments being made for them.

Personalization has even spilled over into the flexibility of the job itself. Working parents, for example, may need jobs that allow them to arrange their schedules around school hours. Family status notwithstanding, millennials in general tend to value flexibility: According to LinkedIn, more than 40 percent consider flexibility a priority when searching for a job.

Gallup research backs up the notion that many employees now prefer working remotely at least some of the time. The good news: Employers benefit, too, through sustained or improved levels of productivity among remote employees.

Build a Happier, More Productive Workforce

In the wake of the pandemic, businesses will be focused on creating loyal, engaged, hard-working teams of top employees. Offering the flexibility these employees crave will be crucial to that effort.

Employers can keep up with workers’ changing priorities by remaining nimble and receptive to employee needs. Employees will increasingly value the ability to select benefits that serve their current needs, which may have evolved over the last year and may change yet again when the pandemic has subsided. Additionally, many employees want flexibility in how, when, and where they perform their jobs.

In light of all this, it’s time for employers to reassess their benefits offerings and ensure they’re giving employees what they need to be a happier, more productive workforce.

Chris Bruce is managing director and cofounder of Darwin.

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Chris is managing director and cofounder of Darwin and has been in the benefits industry for more than 20 years. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, Chris's main focus is on the development of new markets and engagement with global clients. He loves meeting with CHROs and reward leaders to support them in staying one step ahead of the rapidly changing benefits landscape.