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Employee benefits: The trends to look out for in 2021

2020 was a year like no other and completely disrupted the way many people work. With lockdown restrictions still in place and working from home here to stay for the foreseeable future, 2021 is set to be a new chapter in itself and when it comes to reassessing workplace benefits, the pressure is on for employers to make sure that their existing offering is still fit for purpose.

A significant 91% of businesses agree that employees’ expectations of their work experience are changing. This is no surprise, with benefits such as season ticket loans, being little use to employees while the pandemic continues. As such employers must adapt their benefits to new ways of working and ensure that the initiatives they provide remain fit-for-purpose.

Over half of businesses understand the role benefit structures plays in employee engagement according to research from The Reward and Benefits Association (REBA). Luckily many businesses are acting on this knowledge with research showing that 68% of employers have introduced at least one new benefit to support employees’ mental and emotional health over the last 12 months as they adjust to new ways of working.

With this in mind, Sodexo Engage, the employee benefits specialist, has pulled together a list of the employee benefits trends they expect to see this year.

1 - The rise of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Even before the pandemic, EAP’s have been an important option for employees when it comes to effective health and wellbeing management. Offering services such as free 24/7 counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues, including mental health, financial or family problems, EAPs can help reduce the chances of employees suffering a mental health-related illness while simultaneously breaking down stigma associated with mental health and creating a culture that cares.

The impacts of the pandemic has significantly increased anxiety and depression in the UK, with 64% reporting symptoms of depression and 57% facing signs of anxiety it’s no surprise EAPs will come into their own this year in our new, more complex and isolated world.

2 - Employee discounts

COVID-19 has taken its toll on almost every aspect of life, and has seen millions rely on loan payment holidays along with government support, through either the introduction of furlough or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. ‘Every little helps’ is a truism tailor-made for the current climate, therefore benefits that help employees’ wages stretch further with money-saving deals, from the weekly shop to tech, are likely to be hugely popular this year.

3 - Flexible working

Over the years, the UK labour market has shifted to become progressively fluid, modernising how we spend our working lives. Flexible working, including the ability to work from home and leniency in hours, has become increasingly popular. In fact, data from YouGov shows three-quarters of UK workers would back a four-day working week.

Since COVID-19, this is set to accelerate further. Even for organisations where business was traditionally done from an office environment, the forced shift to homeworking has made many realise the potential of implementing a greater degree of homeworking into business models more permanently.

Working from home, flexible or compresses hours and job-sharing, have all become much more common and allow employees to combine work with other demands on their time like childcare and general day-to-day activities. Even when a sense of normality returns and people get back to the workplace, flexible working will be here for the long term, with research finding that, once offices reopen, almost half of office workers (46%) intend to split their work between home and the office, while 15% said they intend to only work from home.

4 - Health plans

Pre- COVID-19, waiting weeks to be seen by a GP or being put on month-long lists for medical treatments was soon becoming a thing of the past through the introduction of private health plans that allow benefits including 24/7 GP appointments through the tap of a button and cash-back schemes for various medical services.

The impact of the pandemic has sadly caused disruption to those facing illnesses unrelated to COVID-19, including delays in cancer treatment which has had devastating effects. However, there has also been reductions in referrals for other serious conditions, largely due to the fact patients haven’t been seeking advice for their symptoms. This year we expect to see an uptick in health plans for employees to help them manage their health efficiently, while reducing pressure on the NHS.

5 - Recognition

A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way, particularly during these times, and appreciation is something we’ve all learnt a lot about over the past year. Nobody likes to feel unappreciated at work, and creating a culture where success is recognised and rewarded is key for a happier and more productive workplace.

Employee recognition platforms are a great way to reward success – it can also be incorporated into peer-to-peer recognition, and is something we expect to increase in popularity over the coming year. This is particularly important in the current climate, where it’s not so easy to pop your head round the desk to congratulate someone.

Extra effort is needed to make employees feel like a valued member of the team, which sometimes needs to be said in a different way to just an instant message for people to truly feel recognised and to boost morale.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments: “2020 was a year like no other, and has transformed the future of the workplace. Although we can’t be sure what’s round the corner, the pandemic has been a huge wake-up call for all employers who must now move with the times and re-address their benefit structures to ensure metrics such as job satisfaction, engagement, morale, mental health and work-life balance take priority. Particularly at this pivotal time for businesses as we seek to bolster resilience post COVID-19. In return, employers will see tangible ROI results through less days lost in illness, absence, or productivity-killing presenteeism. 2021 is set to be a new era for the workplace, and we must see a new era of benefits to support this change.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Sodexo Engage .

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