WFH revolution drives rethink of UK workplace benefits

UK employers want to realign their benefits programmes following the surge in homeworking and greater awareness of mental health, a study by Willis Towers Watson revealed today.

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The global advisory, broking and solutions company’s 2021 Benefits Trends survey tracks global employers’ benefits plans and strategies. It is based on insights from 3,642 companies, which represent 14 million employees, and is broken down by country and region.This year the key findings include employers are seeking to customise and differentiate their employee benefit strategy to support employee experience, with an increasing focus on wellbeing.Driving these changes globally are diversity and inclusion, which is the strongest external factor on benefit strategy (60%), closely followed by tight labour markets (59%).Internally, stress, burnout and mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic are hugely impacting benefits strategies. This applies to 73% of companies globally, but mostly in the North America (86%) and Latin America (84%).
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Employee benefits in the UK

In the UK, the rise in remote working is an important driver of change, with two-thirds (64%) citing it as a key factor. UK organisations surveyed said their weakest areas over the past year were financial wellbeing (42%), social wellbeing (40%) and emotional wellbeing (39%).To change that, 86% are prioritising an improvement in their emotional wellbeing support for staff over the next two years, with two-thirds (67%) planning to enhance their levels of social wellbeing, and a similar proportion (63%) intending to focus on financial wellbeing.

Pandemic raises awareness of wider issues 

Lucie McGrath, UK Health and Benefits Director, Willis Towers Watson, said, “The pandemic and its lockdowns really raised awareness of how mental health issues can harm the workforce, and the important role employers have to support their people."As we move to a hybrid model of home and office working, employers are keen to use that broader understanding to reshape their benefits packages."Online healthcare, wellbeing apps, and mental health strategies are growing areas of interest for many HR leaders keen to revamp the benefits package."“We are also seeing a wider shift to recognising and meeting individual needs and circumstances, and that trend is being partly driven by the welcome rise of inclusion and diversity (I&D)."Three-quarters of firms said an increased focus on I&D is creating a need to change their approach to employee benefits, such as healthcare, pensions, and insurance. Technology can be the enabler to a much more personalised and bespoke employee experience that goes beyond traditional core benefits like pension and life assurance.”

Challenges to making changes

However, despite organisations’ commitment to improving their employee wellbeing provision in light of the changing work environment, many could still find it challenging to change course effectively. Only one-in-seven (15%) of UK organisations use surveys, focus groups and other tools to try to understand their employees’ wants and needs.Three in five (60%) currently have no clear benefits strategy, yet 78% want to create a customised benefits programme over the next two years (currently only 10% have achieved this). “The pandemic has caused many employers to look at benefits and the role they play with a fresh perspective," continued Lucie McGrath. "Many organisations face a big gap between where they are and where they want to be, and it is essential that they listen closely to their staff to work out the best ways of personalising and strengthening the employee experience.”

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