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Should Flexible Employee Benefit Schemes Replace Wellbeing Programmes?

10/11/2014 15:50 GMT | Updated 10/01/2015 10:59 GMT

It appears that some employers just don't get it, using flexible employee benefits schemes to make us work harder, I don't think so!

Employers are cutting corners when it comes to meeting the needs of their workforce, instead of focusing on employee needs they crank the whip out and ask 'how can we make more sales or improve our performance?'

Most organisations have some sort of employee benefit scheme in place, such as cycle-to-work schemes, discounted gym memberships, medical insurance, flexible working hours, childcare vouchers, an employee assistance programme (EAP) and discounted loyalty cards, to mention just a few. Organisations believe these are sufficient to incentivize and engage their workforce; I tend to disagree, as employees will only engage in schemes that have a direct benefit to them. Take-up of each benefit is going to vary according to the product or service on offer. For example, employees who are also parents are the only ones that benefit from childcare vouchers.

Take-up of certain benefit schemes is going to vary according to industry but also according to how well each benefit is funded by the employer, or whether it is partially paid for by the employer or fully paid for by the employee.

We have just exited from a global recession and society is still cautious about the future with some employees fearful about what may lie ahead.

Data from benefits provider, Vebnet, shows that across 13 banking and professional service organisations with a combined workforce of 75,000, the highest average take-up for a benefit was 33% for travel insurance, and the lowest was 0.5% for gym membership. This is quite a surprise as most financial institutions have an in-house gym facility, which suggests that such facilities could be a waste of money.

2014-11-10-bigstockBusinesspeopleridingonbikes35853065.jpg Courtesy of bigstock images

Other industries, of course, produce different results with retail and manufacturing demonstrating the lowest take-up of benefits. According to Towers Watson research, some of the lowest take-up rates were for benefits such as cycle-to-work schemes (8%), health screening (5%) and taking a cash alternative to a company car (3%).

According to Adam Strong, author of 'Move it or lose it', the way to improve engagement is to ask employees what their needs are and evaluate what schemes would be of a direct benefit to them. Employees need to feel they are being treated equitably, bearing in mind that all employees will have different perception of fairness in the workplace. However, if an employee feels they have been treated inequitably, then this may cause them to become de-motivated. Adam recommends that organisations should segment their employees. For example, 18-30 year olds, those with children and mature employees will all have different requirements. Staff should be able to selectively handpick benefits and personalise them based on their individual requirements wherever possible. As Hertzberg highlighted in his theory of motivation in the workplace, empowering employees is a great way to improve job satisfaction.

The key is to understand what employees want and then educate employees about each benefit and the value of different schemes. The evidence is that corporate wellbeing programmes can also produce significant additional benefits in improving organisational culture, supporting change, and demonstrating corporate responsibility for employee welfare. Each corporate wellbeing program should be strategic according to the needs of the individual industry. For employees working in banking, for example, stress management programmes may have a higher take-up compared to a cycle-to-work scheme. Employees within the IT sector are likely to benefit from team-integrated exercises. Using physical activity is a fun way to stay fit and improve healthy for both body and mind.

So the big question - can employee benefit programmes actually motivate us to work harder?

An employee benefits scheme could operate alongside a corporate wellbeing programme to help increase productivity as long as it supports the needs of employees and can achieve engagement.