Our work with employers over the years has shown us that HR departments understand many of the key work-related benefit needs their staff have and many financial benefits like a pension and life cover are widely offered these days. What employers do seem to be missing is helping staff with problems outside of work to make stressful tasks easier, especially for those on lower incomes.
This was highlighted in our Epoq Summer Survey of UK employees and, in particular, help with financial, legal and health matters that effect staff outside of work appear to be under-addressed by their employer. This can impact their attendance and productivity in work.
In our survey, more than half (66%) of employees said they would like their employer to help them deal with certain problems or issues encountered outside of work, with more women (71%) than men (63%) saying they would like help.
When looking at the areas employees want help with, family and mental health issues in particular stand out, with 39% saying they would like help to deal with the illness or death of a family member, 38% said dealing with stress, depression or other mental health issues, 25% help with childcare arrangements and 21% help to look after elderly parents. Also important was making a will or power of attorney, managing debt and access to medical help.
So, what does this mean for HR departments? Our advice is that employers may want to consider the productivity and absence impacts caused by the need for employees to deal with the kind of issues highlighted in the survey. Early intervention both in medical and stress-related matters can be important. This can take the form of direct help, either as part of wider package, such as a virtual GP that often comes with corporate private medical insurance policies, or a specialist service.
Another stat that stood out as important for HR departments to note is that, despite 87% of respondents saying they valued legal advice as an employee benefit in our survey last year, only 15% of respondents this year say they receive that benefit. In addition, just 12% say they have access to legal documents, such as wills, through their employer.
In our experience, access to legal assistance such as helplines and document services make important tasks in an employee’s personal life that often get put off until later, like creating a will or power of attorney, much easier, especially for older employees. HR departments that offer these services as an employee benefit will be creating real value for their staff and help to cut stress for them. Other outside of work tasks like putting life insurance policies into trust or dealing with consumer rights issues can be hugely frustrating for employees resulting in absences from work and a negative impact on their performance in the workplace. Our advice is that offering help with these tasks through an employee benefits package, which few HR departments do, is highly valued.
Age is not just a number
Different age groups value employee benefits in different ways. The younger the employee, the more the tend to value help from their employer, but the older they become, the more self-sufficient they are. In particular, the younger generation value help with legal and financial matters. There is clearly a need for employer-paid access to professional advice in these areas.
For example, another result that came out of our research is that people seem to prioritise insuring their pets over insuring their income in the event of being unable to work through illness or injury: 32% of those surveyed have pet insurance in comparison to 25% with some form of income protection. What this means is that there is a dramatic misallocation of financial priorities and access to some form of financial advice would help.
Tom Conner from employee benefits adviser Drewberry Wealth says: “I would encourage employers to offer some form of income protection more widely to staff as it is generally the most important form of cover for those of working age. It is certainly more important than pet insurance and I would advise employees that, if they are going to source any form of long term insurance themselves, income protection should probably be top of the list.”
So, a greater emphasis on income protection rather than, say, life insurance would prove very valuable as would some kind of employer-funded access to financial advice.
The sentiment from the survey suggests that there are gaps in many current employee benefit schemes. While there are products that are highly valued, like pensions, what employees would like are better access to services that can help them find solutions to complex and stressful situations outside work, be that medical, financial or legal. Younger employees especially feel they need more guidance, which suggests that the future of employee benefits might require a slight shift in emphasis.