All over the world people are experiencing the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, soaring prices, taxes and interest rates, and the war in the Ukraine.  

In the UK, the cost of filling an average family car’s petrol tank broke through the £100 barrier for the first time in June[1] while, in Brazil, double-digit inflation on basic goods and services over the past year is leaving one in four Brazilians without enough food[2]. People are struggling with rising food, petrol and energy costs in Italy and with the devaluation of the cedi in Ghana, which has caused the price of drinking water to go up twice in four months[3].

Different countries are being affected in different ways but what is consistent across geographies is that people are looking to their employers for practical support at this incredibly difficult time, and they’re expecting more from them in terms of protecting and promoting their mental, physical and financial wellbeing.  

Targeting benefit solutions based on regional requirements 

Organisations’ employee benefits programmes are stepping up as the ideal platform for delivering everything from financial education to mental health counselling, and from health insurance to shopping vouchers – anything that meets employees’ increased need to work for compassionate, empathetic organisations that appreciate and recognise their work and help them to make their money go further. 

The key, though, is to know what employees want and to offer a benefits package tailored to their requirements that works in their location – there is no global one-size-fits-all solution. Health insurance, for example, is a vital benefit in the US but may be unnecessary in western Europe, where countries have national healthcare systems in place.   

What do people want

So, what are employees around the world looking for from their benefits and what are the implications for the employers putting packages together? We’ve uncovered some incredibly useful data with our latest research, among 4,000 people in APAC, Europe and the US, into why and how employees’ expectations around benefits are changing, and what employers need to do to meet these new expectations.  

First of all, the why. Our Great Expectations research has revealed that people want to work more flexibly than they have done in the past. The Covid-19 pandemic proved that you don’t have to be in an office from 9am until 5pm to be productive, and now people want to continue to have the freedom to work wherever and however suits them best. In our research, 48% of respondents said their expectations of being able to work the hours they want had increased since the pandemic, and 47% said their expectations of having flexibility in where they work had increased since the pandemic. 

People’s expectations of being supported by their employer have increased too. Almost half (48%) of our survey respondents said they expected more support since the pandemic, and 40% expect more from the benefits packages that their employer provides. And they’re not afraid to vote with their feet if they’re not getting what they want – the Great Resignation has seen record numbers of people leaving their jobs since 2021, in search of caring, compassionate employers who will make them feel valued, recognised and connected[4].  

But benefits can be a valuable tool for retaining the talent that organisations need for success. 86% of our research participants said that employers could stop people leaving if they had more understanding of what employees wanted from their experience at work. They’re also becoming an increasingly important tool for recruitment – 94% of respondents in APAC, 90% in the US and 87% in Europe said benefits are quite or very important when deciding whether to join an organisation. 

Even so, there’s still room for improvement. Most respondents wanted to have more choice and flexibility in their benefits packages (52% in APAC, and 38% in Europe and the US), with an increased focus on employee wellbeing coming in a close second in APAC (45%) and Europe (36%). Having benefits that made employees feel more protected was second-most important to US respondents (37%); having more relevant and personalised benefits that do more to support people’s personal lives was also important to respondents in all three regions. 

Popular new benefits 

So how can employers meet these changing requirements? In our work with organisations all over the world, helping them to deliver benefits as part of an exceptional employee experience, we’re seeing certain kinds of benefits becoming increasingly popular: wellbeing benefits, such as allowances, holiday purchase schemes, discounts and leisure or family benefits, and eco benefits, such as tree-planting projects or discounts on electric vehicles, are really taking off. 

Wellbeing allowances, for example, are much more popular than they used to be – we’re seeing instances of employers adding them to their global benefits packages increasing by 43%. They are a great answer to the questions of personalisation and relevancy; by giving people an amount of money that they can spend on things that boost their wellbeing, rather than proscribing a fixed benefit that’s easy to administer, you’re opening a whole world of options that deliver the flexibility and choice that people want. 

And it doesn’t necessarily have to cost employers any extra money. The pandemic has made traditional benefits such as gym memberships and travel benefits pretty much redundant, so funds can be diverted from them to newer, more relevant benefits such as allowances and eco projects. We’ve seen a variety of approaches to this globally, such as creating a new budget, redeploying existing benefits spend, or using a bonus, 13th month salary or an equivalent scheme. 

Allowances as a form of benefits have been prevalent in APAC for some time and they can easily be rolled out to other regions. Employers can manage the criteria for claims, and they can vary these by region so they are relevant to local employees. Technology plays a vital role in this, allowing organisations to make allowances both accessible and scalable; we’re also seeing it being used to support initiatives such as enabling employees to use unspent balances from flex funds, running a wellbeing and lifestyle fund, and managing low-cost items such as eye care vouchers or professional learning. 

But whichever approach you take to your benefits programme, the key to success is to make it relevant to your employees, aligned with their needs, flexible and varied, and focused on wellbeing and protection.  

Download your copy of our new Great Expectations research report here