Sophie Gane

Sophie Gane

Copywriting Manager

The year 2020 has really been a test for employee engagement. More has been thrown at HR teams than at any other time since 2008! As a result of this year of change, many Reward teams are looking for ways to reduce benefits costs, save money where possible, maximise the value of their existing employee benefits platforms and plans, and put more emphasis on the most cost-effective employee benefits for employers and their people. Luckily, there are some benefits out there that will do just this, and still deliver an exceptional employee experience. The focus going forward will be on quality over quantity – more, cheap benefits do not necessarily mean better engagement. Focusing on meaningful benefits that deliver value will help maintain engagement in 2021.

1. Flexible Spending Accounts

Hugely popular in Asia and the USA, these types of benefits are gaining more ground in the UK due to their inherent flexibility and offer of choice. Historically, the flex fund framework had been in place for the purposes of covering medical costs, with employers deciding on which health costs are covered, (in terms of how they’re accessed and spent, however, FSAs are controlled by the employee, and able to roll over, Health Spending Accounts (HSAs) are controlled by the employer.) While these spending accounts have always been customisable, more and more employers are opening this style of benefit out to cover wider wellbeing and lifestyle purchases, such as for gym memberships, golfing, spa days (in some regions like the Nordics) etc. The pandemic and its resultant spotlight on employee wellbeing has caused many employers to expand Lifestyle accounts yet further, often adapting this into a Wellbeing Spending Account, with access to home workout equipment, relaxation therapies, even pottery and gardening classes as a part of improved wellbeing.

This type of benefit – whether employers opt for FSAs, HSAs, Lifestyle, or Wellbeing spending accounts – is cost-effective, yet incredibly well received by employees. Some organisations have found that having these types of accounts separated from employee salary is more appealing to employees than it would be if lumped in with salary, as it’s firstly viewed as an additional benefit, and encourages proactive investment in health and wellbeing.

2. Financial education

As more and more employees face redundancy or at least financial uncertainty in the midst of recession, financial education is becoming even more valuable to employees needing to cut their costs and protect their assets. Since the pandemic hit, 85,000 Brits and 40 million Americans have lost their jobs. But before Covid, the UK already had record-high debt and stagnant savings, with 6 in 10 UK employees regularly running out of money before payday. So it’s clear that financial wellbeing is an ongoing challenge where employers can help to make a real difference through education. Providers like nudge and SalaryFinance offer a low-cost service to the employer, but help employees to steer themselves towards financially beneficial decisions.

3. Personal development

For those employees who have stayed in employment, one of the side-effects of the pandemic could be a sense of stagnation or feeling trapped in their roles. With most organisations currently offering little in the way of promotions and/or pay rises, and with the current volatility of the job market, employers need to offer some sense of progression, particularly in these latter stages of lockdown where it’s become clear that we’re not facing temporary change. Self-development funds are a cost-effective way of showing your commitment to your employees’ development. Supplemented with online seminars (often offered for free or at a low cost by experts currently unable to work the events scene), your learning and development initiatives can come to the forefront during this frustrating time, and can contribute to a richer employee experience.

4. Volunteering opportunities

According to the Harris Group, 72% of millennials – who currently make up 35% of the workforce – value experiences over possessions. While these experiences can be hard to come by during a pandemic, you only need to look at the news surrounding Black Lives Matter and Marcus Rashford to see that many employees want to focus their time on good causes, pandemic or not. During lockdown, many volunteering opportunities will have been put on hold, and will need extra attention following Covid, but even so, there are services like food banks, the Samaritans, and domestic abuse charities which have required more help in 2020. In allowing employees to donate their time to these causes, there is little monetary cost to the business, and the resulting employee advocacy more than makes up for the lost time.

5. Flexible working

This always comes up on these lists, but it’s because it’s so true. If any good has come out of the pandemic, is that it’s shown that employees can be trusted to work from home, at times that suit them and their families, and productivity stays the same (or in some cases, improves). Benefex have been sounding the flexible working klaxon for years now, but in a post-Covid world, many office-based employers will find it difficult to justify returning to the physical workplace full-time. Flexible working not only costs you nothing, it widens your recruitment pool, improves your inclusivity, and impresses your current and future employees.

6. Holiday trading & sabbaticals

Holiday trading has been a particular favourite of employers for some time now. While it may seem strange to include this at a time when international travel is restricted, employees need time off work now more than ever. The benefit offers impressive NI savings for employers as it’s so popular with employees, and with domestic holiday bookings set to soar in summer 2021, this benefit could really help your people take some much-needed recovery time!

Sabbaticals are a great loyalty-based benefit that, again, cost very little to the organisation, but pay dividends in employee engagement. Plus, the wealth of experience and enthusiasm that employees bring back from their time out can often give their teams a boost.

Hopefully this has given you some great ideas to help you maintain engagement through cost-effective employee benefits. If you’d like to know more about where employers should be focusing their benefits investment, listen in to our webinar with Lockton Employee Benefits, here!


Sophie Gane

Sophie Gane

Copywriting Manager

Sophie is a self-confessed coffee addict, with an undying love for puns and terrible jokes.

Before working at Benefex, Sophie worked in a student accommodation where she was responsible for all communications with the residents, and planning and running events in the building. She has a degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University, and heads up to the Scottish capital whenever she can. She's originally from Staines though, innit.

When she's not writing blogs, Soph can be found supporting her beloved Arsenal, watching The Simpsons, and adding to her collection of film and TV-based t-shirts.