Hot off the presses, the annual Employee Benefits Magazine research has landed on my desk. The stand-out theme in this year’s report is the extent to which employee engagement and wellbeing continue to dictate benefits strategy in the organisations surveyed.

The rise to prominence of employee engagement as the prime driver of benefits strategy in organisations is worth a closer look.

What the research shows us is that organisations have started to look at benefits in a different way. Now, only a minority of organisations say they use benefits to drive specific behaviours (32%). The number of employers who use benefits to help deliver on business and HR objectives is even smaller – only one in five say these factors influences the introduction of new benefits.

Instead, what we see is the prevalence of ‘employee-centric’ benefits strategy. Here, half of employers say they are choosing benefits based on what they think their employees will find useful rather than simply identifying a benefit which has a purely commercial outcome such as reducing sickness absence (27%).

What’s more the survey shows that ‘people power’ now plays a more significant role in the choice and introduction of new benefits than hard business objectives – this is the case for 41% of organisations.

Does this mean employers have gone soft?

No, I don’t think so. The talk may be all about employee engagement but what lies behind this is the imperative to drive business performance. What I think we are seeing is evidence that current thinking about the role of employee engagement as a driver of business performance is really taking root. Organisations now buy into the idea that if you look after your people, commercial performance will follow.

The second strand of the research worth calling out is the prominence of employee wellbeing as a driver of benefits strategy. A few years ago, it didn’t even figure in the motives for benefits provision, now it is the second most important driver of benefits strategy. What’s more, when you look down the list of new benefits provided in the past year health-related benefits dominate.

What we see is more evidence that for many employers, the penny has dropped: help your people stay fit and healthy and your organisation benefits too.

So what does all this mean to you and your organisation?

If you are an employer who is putting engagement and wellbeing at the heart of your benefits strategy, it shows you are in good company and that your benefits strategy is likely to fulfil the two other key goals of attracting and retaining employees in what is set to be an increasingly competitive market for good people.

If employee engagement and wellbeing has yet to figure in your thinking about benefits, you may not necessarily have the wrong benefits strategy but one which could do with a rethink. That’s because your competition is likely to have moved on and as a result, what you offer now may not be enough to attract and retain people in a newly buoyant jobs market.

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