Employee benefits are in great shape and look set to get even healthier over the coming years, according to new research from CIPD and business consultancy Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP). 
In a poll of 568 HR practitioners, the organisations found that 8 out of 10 employers plan to spend the same amount on staff benefits over the next two years as they currently do, while 16% aim to boost their investment.
The latter respondents are most likely to raise spending in: i) professional development (43%), including training, paid study leave and professional subscriptions; ii) health and wellbeing (29%), covering occupational sick pay, employee assistance programmes and flu jabs, and iii) financial benefits (25%) – eg, pension schemes, loans to help staff in hardship and free money-management advice.
However, the report warns, any further benefits spending risks being undermined by a lack of relevant analysis on the part of employers.
CIPD points out: “The majority of respondents (74%) said they don’t currently conduct a review of their benefit spend, so could be missing the opportunity to establish how effective their benefits are. This is despite benefits playing an important role in helping organisations succeed, with two-thirds (66%) of respondents saying [the] main purpose [of benefits] was to attract, recruit and retain staff to support current business needs.”
CIPD senior reward and performance adviser Charles Cotton adds: “The people profession has an important role to play in analysing spend on benefits to see if the business, its people and other key stakeholders are getting maximum value from them. Analysis provides crucial evidence for making changes for the better if this is not the case.”
With that in mind, then, which key questions should employers seek to cover off in these analyses – and how should the analyses themselves be structured?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I was in Vienna last week chairing a conference on holistic engagement, and one of the most interesting points that emerged from the event was that organisation-wide initiatives to give employees the benefits they are looking for may be somewhat limited: what works for staff in one part of the organisation may not work for their colleagues in another part, so the most effective solutions may in fact be local.
“So in a very large organisation, you may have to present a whole range of different benefits offers, because each of your different employee groups will be seeking different things. These packages may encompass everything from coffee vouchers to overall wellbeing solutions. With all that in mind, these offers have to be of benefit to the individuals who are receiving them – just because they are badged as ‘benefits’ doesn’t mean that each package would be universally received as such. So some careful targeting must be considered.”
Cooper points out: “Even if benefits are not used, they send out a strong message that the organisation cares about its staff and values their out-of-hours selves – which is where a lot of the health and discount offers come into play. So when it comes to analysing the effects of benefits, organisations will stand themselves in good stead by actually interviewing employees to find out what they think of the offers they are experiencing. Unlike the broader field of economics, with the concept of ceteris paribus,  you can’t isolate a particular venture and use it to draw a blanket conclusion – for example, that one offer has contributed to a reduction in absenteeism – because the picture is too granular.”
She adds: “Talking to staff about their benefits will add a second layer of reassurance on top of the offers themselves, conveying to employees that the organisation is eager to listen to them, appreciates their whole selves and is keen to invest in benefits as non-financial rewards: an acknowledgment that there is more to coming into work than simply being paid. Organisations have a tendency to assume that effectiveness is guaranteed by spend – for example, ‘If we’ve budgeted £2 million for benefits in this financial year, then we must automatically be doing a good job.’ But who, exactly, is benefiting – and how?
“Just because a benefits provider is calling these offers benefits, it doesn’t mean that they are being consumed – or valued – equally in every corner of the organisation.”
For further thoughts on motivation and engagement, check out this learning module from the Institute