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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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News: benefits packages stagnating as employees demand more

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Benefits packages provided by employers are out of step with the needs of employees, according to new research commissioned by Unum from Populus and Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

UK employees are becoming increasingly risk averse because of the recession. Over three-quarters (77 percent) are concerned over financial security and are prioritising long-term financial security in benefits packages.

Yet despite 52 percent of employers saying they had a responsibility to look after their staff, over 50 percent have not reviewed employee packages since 2008 – when the recession first hit. An alarming stat when you consider 74 percent of employees can’t see an end in sight to the financial downturn.

UK workers want a shift in benefits offered by their employers. Almost two-thirds of staff (62 percent) see defined pensions contributions as the most important benefit, while 60 percent believe their employer should now offer income protection. Meanwhile, ‘soft’ benefits such as gym memberships were valued by just 26 percent of staff.

However, the research suggests the discrepancy is not due to a lack of willingness among employers to look after their workforce. Over half of employers (51 percent) saw the anticipated cost of implementing changes as a drawback to reviewing benefits. They also cited a perceived lack of bottom line benefit (34 percent) and excessive bureaucracy (29 percent) as barriers.

This research is interesting in an age where many employers believe well-rounded benefits packages, including gym memberships and fresh fruit in the office, are key in attracting and retaining top talent. That may well have underlying truth, but it’s been put on the back burner due to the financial downturn, which has driven a shift in employee priorities.

The key, as with many HR policies, is adaptability. Companies that can transparently – and consistently – address the benefits issue and make appropriate changes in relation to staff needs are likely to see increased productivity as a result.

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive Officer of Unum, commented: “Employers can use their benefits much more effectively than they’re currently doing – if their staff have been educated to fully understand their packages, it can have a huge impact on their brand loyalty and engagement with their employer. Employers need to listen to their staff to work out what they want, and what they need.

“Matching the wants and needs of employees with what you’re providing not only helps employees, it makes commercial sense for the business – and understanding that is the key to a truly modern approach to benefits.”

Dr Benjamin Reid, Senior Researcher, The Work Foundation, commented: “We’re seeing major changes in the way that employees think about their benefits, and we’ve found that even those presumed to be the most footloose and fancy-free in our society are moving towards wanting a much higher level of security from their benefits. They are becoming much more traditional in their approach to benefits – the recession has forced them to think about their finances in a different way.”

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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