Employee Benefits: Are they valued and appreciated?

To value and avail benefits, employees need to be aware of what is actually on offer.

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Many employers feel that their employees do not really understand the benefits that are offered to them. It is hard to believe, but the truth is that people don’t really give much thought to the benefits unless and until they themselves land in a situation where these benefits become crucial. For instance, till a spouse meets with an accident and is being wheeled into the operation theatre, the employee may not really have read through the medical benefits or insurance cover she / he is eligible for.

A couple of years ago, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans had undertaken a study to find out why employees do not really understand their benefits. The main factor was found to be lack of communication.

An alarming 80 per cent of the employers surveyed had revealed that their staff members do not even read the material about the benefits offered to them. Only a measly 19 per cent admitted to their employees possessing a thorough understanding of their benefits. About half the workforce hasn’t the faintest idea of their employee benefits.

Why is that so? For many reasons:

1. It is not on the employees’ priority list

Employees are focussed on their jobs while at work, and at home they are busy trying to fulfil the basic needs of their family members. They give little thought to the insurance policies and benefits offered to them by their employers, until they find themselves in a situation where such a cover is required. It is very rarely that employees use such insurance or benefits, other than maternity leave. Retirement is something that the youngsters do not even wish to think about in the present.

There is an urgent need to educate the employees about benefits that may not seem important or necessary to them immediately, but will be of great significance in the future.

2. Employees are more interested in the paid leaves

Paid leaves attract employees the most. This is because employees, especially the younger lot, are most interested in vacations, travel and ‘me time’. Everyone uses these leaves at least once a year. Thus, other benefits always get pushed to the back bench.

3. Benefits and plans sound quite complex

It is up to the organisation to ensure that the details of the policies/benefits are explained to the employees in a simple manner. Technical stuff may not register in the minds of the employees. But if the jargon is broken down into simple and comprehensible language, the staff will understand and appreciate the same. This exercise should be an integral part of the employee experience.

Not long ago, the India Benefit Trends survey undertaken by Towers Watson, revealed that Indian organisations are feeling the pressure to review their benefits strategy. Inflation and the hike in employee benefits costs in the country are the main challenges they are facing.

While one in every three Indian organisations invests over 20 per cent of the total payroll on benefits, the interesting fact is that 43 per cent feel their employees do not value the same.

So how can organisations offer benefits that can engage employees and improve their health and well-being?

To begin with, it is important, as an employer, to understand what the employees actually need:

1. Do your homework: Gather information about the employees—their backgrounds, the community they belong to and live in, their priorities, financial and physical health as well as their interests and passions. Only if the employers know their employees inside out can they provide them the appropriate support for their health and general wellbeing. The support can be in the form of flexibility, training, facilitation of their passions, and counselling, whenever required.

2. Cater to the different needs of the workforce: Employees do not have similar needs, because they themselves are different, in terms of traits, needs, characteristics, as well as their physical and mental health. Therefore, they seek different employee experiences. To satisfy them, they can be allowed to choose the benefits they need. Offering them flexible benefits will not only make them satisfied, but also make them more productive in the long run. With so much of data available on people from various sources, including the social media, it should not be difficult to design benefits programmes best suited to them.

4. Communicate with the employees: Whatever the benefits are, they need to be shared with the employees and driven home. Technology should be leveraged to make sure that the employees are aware of what is available to them, so that they can avail them at the time of need. On an average, people spend at least three hours on their smartphones. May be employers should make maximum use of this tool to reach out to the employees, to update them with the benefits available to them, from time to time. The communication should happen frequently and all year round. Even employees who have availed of these benefits can be encouraged to share their experience with their colleagues and educate them. Word of mouth works well, even in this day and age!

At a time when employers are setting aside budgets for employee benefits, it is important for employees to make an effort to understand their benefits, and equally essential for employers to educate them in this area, so that their efforts are not wasted.

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