The world of technology never stands still, and the employee benefits sector is no different. In recent years, the focus has been very much around engagement and communication of benefits in an attempt to drive up appreciation and usage, against a backdrop of the global pandemic and the ongoing trend for people to work remotely at least some of the time.
“The best benefits technology not only allows employers to be highly specific about who they target, but also about how they communicate with those groups,” says John Deacon, head of employee benefits at Buck. “Device-agnostic reward and benefits technology allows employers to get a clear message to their audience via the medium they are most used to engaging with, improving engagement with the messaging and uptake of the benefits package.” This could be over email but increasingly takes place over platforms such as Yammer or WhatsApp, he adds.
Personalisation and automation
From an employee perspective, this has seen a greater use of apps and mobile-friendly platforms, as well as gamification, personalisation and automation with other systems, such as HR packages. “We’re seeing a huge rise in gamified options for employees to learn about their benefits and promote healthy habits,” says Jan Pieter Janssen, vice president, business development, at Alight Solutions.
“Personalisation provides the information people need, when they need it, to make better health, wealth and career decisions. It can provide employees with targeted alerts and guidance via multi-channel messages that continuously adapt based on their actions. Automation simplifies the enrolment and claims process, reducing errors and administrative work for both employers and employees.” Alongside this, virtual benefits fairs are becoming more common, allowing employees to understand and take up benefits from remote locations, he adds.
There’s also a wider trend towards on-demand benefit provision, again on a virtual basis. “For example, a financial coaching call can be booked directly by an employee and taken, in private, at a time that suits them, with no need to travel,” says Alex Ford, chief marketing officer and co-founder at Claro Wellbeing. “On-demand learning resources can be used flexibly and at employees’ own pace too. This means that staff are more likely to take up an offering as they can choose when to engage.”
Reward and recognition schemes are also moving online, says Chantelle Hamouy, senior associate, employee benefits, at Punter Southall Aspire. “Companies are encouraging their employees to give shout-outs, award incentives and play games with each other, which can make it more engaging and fun,” she says. “This can really help employees build relationships with their colleagues and not feel isolated, even when working from home.”
Not surprisingly, the role of data is continuing to grow in technology platforms, and with it the ability for employers to help understand the needs and wants of employees. “In recent years, the use of data in benefits technology has continued to evolve and expand,” says Ankur Sharma, vice president of product and engineering at Perkbox.
“Data analytics tools are being used to analyse employee data and provide personalised reward recommendations, while predictive analytics is being used to forecast future costs and identify cost-saving opportunities. Finally, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping employers and rewards providers identify trends and patterns that would be difficult to identify manually.”
The use of data is proving particularly useful around health and wellbeing benefits, says John Hyde, chief marketing officer at Unum. “For employers, anonymised data on service utilisation helps them become more aware of potential risk factors in their business related to sickness absence,” he says. “Businesses can identify key workforce trends, such as content viewed, utilisation by health issue, number of sessions used, gender, age or time of appointment. Their health and wellbeing strategy can then be tailored to the needs of their business, and preventative measures can be put in place early, pre-empting upcoming concerns.”
One company that makes good use of data is software-as-a-service firm Celonis. The business uses a combination of internal and external data to help shape its benefits package. “This includes external data on trends in the market, to benchmark and take ideas from what other companies are doing, and internal input through engagement surveys, employee listening sessions and feedback from our business resource groups,” says Christina Alliak, head of global benefits.
An engagement survey suggested employees wanted a greater focus on individual career development and aspirations, leading to the creation of a new learning platform, while usage data suggested an existing wellness app was not delivering any real benefit. “Understanding from our data that there was still a need to support wellbeing, we chose to invest in another resource, which provides broader support and includes features such as counselling services and online content that covers elements like mental, physical, financial and social wellbeing,” adds Alliak.
As organisations continue to adapt to new ways of working, technology is only going to become more important as a means of bringing employees together through benefits packages. “Businesses will become more flexible in their offerings,” predicts Matt Russell, CEO of Zest. “As the war for talent continues, businesses that do not keep up with the evolving world of work, and the technology that accompanies this, will risk losing out on talent.
“The key is that benefits, and the technology used to support this, are all a part of the bigger holistic employee experience. Businesses that understand this will be the ones that will set themselves apart.”