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19 Nov 2020
by Matthew Gregson and Adam Harding

What is influencing the future of employee benefits design?

The Covid-19 pandemic has created new wellbeing challenges and changes to the working dynamic for all of us, prompting many businesses to review and adapt their employee benefits packages.


A recent survey from Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing highlighted a significant shift in employers’ attitudes towards their employee benefits and wellbeing provisions. We found that almost three in every four employers (72%) will be reviewing their employee benefits provision as a direct result of the global health emergency we are all currently facing.

The rise of homeworking

One major trend is the rise in homeworking. Although attitudes to homeworking were already slowly changing before the pandemic, lockdown has forced employers to adapt, implement new policies and consider the future effectiveness of flexible and homeworking for their business and their people.

A forecast of home working trends from Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25-30% of the global workforce will be working from home multiple days a week through until the end of 2021. As with most challenges in life, it will be those employers who adapt best and look for solutions that balance the new normal, the needs of the business and those of their employees, who will be rewarded during adversity.

Although the mainstay of benefits packages, such as pensions, medical plans and financial protection will remain, the wider offer will need to be adapted to reflect the changing dynamic that home working brings. Already we have seen that the concept of flexible working has been stretched as far as possible, and it is clear this could extend to flexible annual leave and other policies that recognise the changes to when people are working and the time they need to take away from work to rest and reset.

Greater focus on health and wellbeing

There is greater focus on health and wellbeing too. PwC’s CEO Panel Survey (2020) found that since the pandemic 93% of UK CEOs (92% globally) have prioritised protecting employee health and safety over everything else. This extends beyond the physical protections, such as homeworking, with 90% of UK CEOs ensuring their companies are providing mental wellbeing support and initiatives.

With long NHS waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment, services such as private medical insurance, health cash plans, and virtual GP services are likely to increase in importance too, especially where they allow the employee to both bypass the NHS primary care system and provide virtual or remote services.

In the past, approaches to health, especially medical insurance, created the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, but it is clear that the market is already adapting with solutions to meet differing employee needs and employer budgets, together with a greater focus on digital services. This is great to see, as in the past, employers have sometimes struggled to find viable lower cost solutions.

Although flexible benefits will continue to work as a pillar of employers’ strategies, the focus on day-to-day support for employees, from fitness and wellbeing, to managing their money and taking advantage of discounts and savings, will take centre stage for the foreseeable future. At times like these, where salary reviews may be few and far between, the ability for employers to find support and value for their employees in other ways is key.

International trends

For companies operating internationally, there is a growing need for consistency across the entire workforce, and firms are looking at how they make their country-level policies global. Companies increasingly want to manage employee benefits centrally and widen access to healthcare benefits including global virtual GPs, medical insurance and global EAPs.

Benefits are also expected to become more employee-led. Workers will want to select the benefits that suit them, and employers will need a multilevel benefit system where employees can pick and choose. As the world changes, it makes sense that the benefits employees want will change too.

Businesses will need to invest their benefits budget wisely and in areas where the impact will be most keenly felt.  As redundancies on a global scale look set to rise, having the right benefits will help companies attract and recruit talent from this bigger global talent pool; retain the best people, and ensure their workforce feels valued.

We recommend that companies seek advice, as benefits and benefits packages are likely to become more complex and unique, and therefore potentially more costly. This is especially important for those who want to introduce a global benefits platform and have a multinational workforce, where home working could be from anywhere.

A broker can negotiate the best deals and provide advice on local regulations, taxes and culture. They can simplify the process and ensure a benefits strategy meets the changing needs of the workforce in the post Covid-19 world.

The authors are Matthew Gregson, head of corporate and Adam Harding, director of international healthcare, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.

This article is provided by Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.

In partnership with Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

Howden provides insurance broking, risk management and claims consulting services, globally. We work with clients of all sizes to provide dedicated employee benefits & wellbeing consultancy.

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