An EMEA-wide survey published recently has found that a significant amount of companies perceive the increased financial burden on their employee benefits budget as the key barrier for implementing new programmes.

According to the 2014 EMEA Employee choice survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits, which questioned 636 employers across 17 countries, 82% of those surveyed felt that the cost of flexible employee benefits was a barrier to such programmes.

Yet contrastingly, two-thirds (67%) of respondents who had implemented an employee benefits scheme that offered such choice stated that that they experienced either no extra cost (23%), or in fact a cost reduction (43%).

So why is there such contrasting views of employee benefits that offer a range of choices?

The likelihood is that those who perceive the increased financial burden on their employee benefits budget as the key barrier haven’t spent time properly analysing their current benefits programme. And I would be willing to bet that, the two-thirds of respondents who experienced no extra cost or a cost reduction did their homework before implementing their scheme.

Get it right and the benefits will outweigh the perceived cost. In fact, 72% of companies reported that their employee choice programme met their organisational objectives, which is a 10% increase from the figures reported in 2011.

Employers need to get smarter

All too often, cost becomes an issue because the take up of employee benefit schemes isn’t high enough for employers to get a good return on investment.

Employers need to get smarter with the benefits that they offer. By choosing options that are based on employee preferences, and improving communications about what’s on offer, many of the more affordable benefit solutions now available would become a viable option.

If you could double the take up of your existing benefit scheme, then you wouldn’t have a problem justifying the expense. So why don’t employers invest more time into working smarter with their benefits?

All too often the HR team see this as a tick box exercise, and as a result they opt for the highest value of discounts, in sometimes obscure places, without considering the needs and wants of the employees. Organisations need to offer discount schemes and benefits that their staff will use on a monthly basis, and not once a year for a one off purchase.

Proper research and consultation with your employees is the key; find out what kind of benefits they would like, and keep in mind that different employees will want different things. If you already have an existing benefits scheme, review it! What choices are employees taking up, and how often are they being used? What benefits are being left to languish unloved and unused? Only once you’ve been through this process can you really know what employees want, and what choices will make your employee benefits scheme successful.

Flexible benefits schemes continue to grow

It’s interesting to note that the same survey also found that, in general, employees are satisfied with their flexible employee benefits, in fact just over three-quarters (76%) of respondents gave a positive employee response to a benefit programme’s introduction.

The number of companies offering flexible benefits (22%) is expected to double over next two years, and I’m sure that this is a trend that will continue, especially in smaller businesses, and not just the large corporates. But before you implement a benefits scheme, do your homework and prioritise the choices based on your employees’ preferences.

Kuljit Kaur

Kuljit is responsible for business development at The Voucher Shop, a  division of p&mm ltd. Your one stop shop for corporate vouchers and gift cards for employee benefits, recognition or rewards.