Has the pandemic increased the appetite for employee benefit schemes?

Easy ways for employers to improve wellbeing at minimal cost

It’s been almost two years since the pandemic began and since then the world has seen numerous changes. Online shopping surged, carbon emissions temporarily declined and communities pulled together. In our everyday lives, one of the biggest changes was in our work lives, with remote and hybrid working becoming standard practice.

Without face-to-face contact, experts have been left wondering whether employee wellbeing is currently enough of a priority for employers. A recent report by Mercer Marsh Benefits found that only 49% of staff had received good support from their employers during the pandemic, with 34% saying that they would be more likely to stay with a company that has strong mental healthcare provisions.

In the wake of a new year, we ask, has the pandemic increased the appetite for employee benefit schemes, and are there easy ways for employers to improve wellbeing at minimal cost?

A changing world; a changing office

During uncertain times, it is usual to see increased absence and reduced productivity within the workplace. In CIPD and Simplyhealth’s Health and Wellbeing survey, 37% of respondents said that stress-related absence had increased in the last year.

With social distancing measures and reduced contact in place, COVID undoubtedly affected people’s mental wellbeing. According to the Office for National Statistics, one in five people experienced some form of depression, double the amount when compared to before March 2020. This presents a huge challenge for employers, but also one which allows them to create new opportunities.

The pandemic reinforced that people’s financial circumstances can very quickly change, leaving thousands more vulnerable than at any point in recent memory. The Independent reported that financial wellbeing has deteriorated at the fastest rate since the beginning of the pandemic, with an index finding that confidence fell from 44.0 in the third quarter of 2021 to 40.1 in the final quarter. The rising cost of bills and the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus are seen as the biggest causes behind this sharp rise.

With employees naturally concerned about their finances, it potentially means they will be more stressed in and out of work, which may mean they look elsewhere for a higher salary and other benefits. Employers must therefore look at what they are offering their employees to ensure that it matches their current circumstances and gives them the best chance of reducing absence and improving talent retention.

The new employee benefits

In a world where mask-wearing and social distancing are still encouraged, employee travel perks such as season ticket loans or a company electric car may not be the top priority and so businesses may wish to communicate with their teams to find out what is most important to them going forward.

As reported by Employee Benefits, Zellis recently found that almost half of UK employers introduced new workplace benefits since the pandemic began, with flexible working, childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work-schemes and technology purchases leading the list.

In particular, employees now expect more flexibility when working and by granting these requests, employers will help to retain or attract talent. As reported in Wired, Totaljobs has seen an increase of 40% in searches for job roles that offer remote working. It is also financially beneficial to businesses as remote working has saved the UK economy £338,430,000 annually in sick pay wages, following a drop in the number of illness days since the pandemic began according to Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance. Flexible working arrangements, including the ability to choose working hours, are especially useful for parents to help them meet childcare commitments.

As previously set out, increased money worries due to the rise in inflation mean that employers must react to ensure their teams remain financially stable. The Financial Times discovered that around nine thousand UK companies are paying employees and contractors at an hourly rate that is significantly higher than the statutory minimum, with the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage recently adjusted to meet rising living costs. This uptake in employers signing up to pay the ‘real’ living wage has been described as the fastest rate of increase in 10 years and may reflect the new recognition of key workers during the pandemic. Whether this move is mirrored across the broader economy is yet to be seen.

Helping to increase financial wellbeing

With these evolving concerns as well as the well-publicised difficulties in recruiting, it is more than worthwhile for employers to meet the demand for new employee benefits.

Here at Great Western Credit Union, the biggest credit union in South West England, we have adapted our own employee benefits to recognise and reward our team members for their hard work during the pandemic and to increase our overall attractiveness as an employer. Recent changes include increased pension contributions, as well as introducing a new health cash plan and income protection insurance. We are a “more than living wage” employer, helping our employees to feel financially secure during this difficult time by setting our minimum pay levels even higher than the Living Wage Foundation’s rate.

Whilst many employee benefits require ongoing spending our MONEY@WORK scheme helps employees to enjoy more of life, giving them access to low-cost loans and savings plans with no direct cost to employers. Repayments and savings are withdrawn automatically from members’ salaries, allowing people to develop good saving habits and to feel more in control of their finances. The scheme currently serves over 35,000 people in South West England and there are 30 employer partners, including Airbus, Dorset Council, Support for Independent Living and Better Food company to name just a few.

We understand that it has been a difficult two years for many and by offering these services, we are working to improve the financial wellbeing of our region, one company at a time. If you would like to contact the team to investigate putting in place this extra employee benefit which can reduce absence and improve recruitment and retention then please do send us an email or call us on 0117 934 7309 to talk to Sim, who looks after this work for us.

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Posted on
27 January 2022