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Is it time to leave the herd?

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Throughout my time spent working with employers, whilst there has been a lot of change within the employee benefits industry, one thing has remained fairly constant – the desire to stay in line with what other employers are doing. When designing benefit programmes, we have traditionally been asked “What do your other clients do?”

This approach and viewpoint arose from a world where insight into one’s own organisational behaviour around benefits was limited to the headline stories and where information on industry-wide behaviour was, at times, no better than anecdotal. With no clear direction from within, employers then looked to their consultants with the approach of “…if everyone else is doing it, it can’t be wrong.”

The net result of this was that almost every employer ended up with more or less the same benefit programme – regardless of whether or not that was appropriate for some or all of their people. With nothing firm to base any alternative designs on, this was the safe option and whilst the needs of all parties were not necessarily addressed, a reasonable level of engagement from the employees could be expected from this vanilla but safe approach.

However, this is all finally beginning to change as employers start to realise the potential power of all the data they are holding within their flex systems and benefit administration platforms – data that can provide deep insight into their own people and their very specific needs. This is coupled with a younger generation coming to the workplace, who have grown up online and expect the employer to be flexible and allow them to model their employment packages to meet their own needs and to communicate with them in a way they understand.

Through analysis of the data it is possible to identify trends, issues and other areas. REBA’s Technology Survey 2017/18 highlighted a rise in interest for tailored analytics solutions with over half of respondents currently using MI and analytics to shape reward and benefits decisions.

By way of an example, Company A is a retailer with employees spread over more than 50 stores in the UK and a large head office site. In the past, decisions on benefits have been made based on the headline numbers across the organisation. However, if A is able to quickly and easily access data on not only take-up rates but take-up rates by store and then by gender, salary-band, age, job grade etc – and then view that data as it progresses month-on-month – the benefit programme (or programmes as it may well take a different approach for store employees than it does for head office employees) can be adapted to address areas such as low uptake, gender issues and poor communication.

By understanding this level of detail, an employer can target different areas of their business and maximise the efficiency of any spend on benefits being made and the associated strategies. A good example of this is communication strategy. Without the detail, it’s very difficult to communicate in anything other than a single voice and, as a result, it will often end in a scatter gun approach in the hope that all bases are covered. With the detail, messages and materials can be targeted at different groups and tailored to address any issue or trend identified.

So, we’re entering an exciting new phase in employee benefits – where employers drill deep into their own data to inform, in detail, the design, communication and other aspects of their benefit programme. Now that employers can harness the power of their data, is it time to leave the herd and move to benefit programmes and communication strategies designed exclusively and specifically for the needs and expectations of their people?

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