The future of global flex benefits02.11.21
Global Benefits Director
Despite the reflex assumption of ‘we don’t need a platform as we don’t have flexible benefits’, offering an online benefits platform in a low-flex benefits location offers many advantages, from reducing administrative burdens and providing an enhanced employee experience.
While we discussed this in a previous blog, Myth-busting global benefits technology, today this dynamic has shifted. With companies beginning to plan for a post-pandemic future, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in benefits strategy and provision reviews, as employers look to evolve their employee benefits for the new world of work. Among the rapid reviews, it seems only right to revisit the topic of benefits platforms in low-flex regions, and consider this in the context of how benefits are changing on a global scale.
What counts as ‘flexible’?
At Benefex we even go so far as to broadly avoid the term ‘flexible benefits’, as the interpretation varies depending on the location – while we tend to think of flexible benefits as meaning a wider variety of optional leisure, lifestyle, and financial benefits (and this may ring true in countries like the UK or the US), this may not always be the case. For a majority of international locations (such as The Netherlands, Spain or Singapore), flexible benefits simply refers to some choice in benefit options, and the ability for the employee to upgrade their coverage on benefits such as life cover and medical benefits. This element of choice is the ‘flexible’ part, as it adds a level of complexity that becomes an additional administration task for your HR team.
Taking India as an example, although the benefits offering itself is relatively simple, the medical plan is one of the more complicated that we see globally. Employees can use their salary to choose from seven or eight add-ons, various deductibles, and additional family members. This one benefit can create a major administrative burden, as well as generating confusion for the employees who may be using outdated, paper-based selection processes. Immediately, the need for a platform to handle the heavy lifting becomes a necessity.
Choice remains key
Employee choice and wellbeing are at the heart of the new benefits strategies we are seeing developed. Whilst the industry is not yet waving goodbye to the traditional-style gym membership benefit, we are seeing more choice offered and more flexibility within those choices. With restricted budgets and growing employee demand, companies are looking at offering more flexibility without increased costs. Where fixed life insurance and accident cover were offered before, employers are now investigating voluntary enhancements and spousal cover. These changes coupled with allowances for wellbeing, leisure and family activities allow employees to choose what is right for their circumstances, and don’t necessarily involve higher costs to the business.
With employees at the forefront, local providers are being challenged to adapt and become more flexible. We’ve seen employers move to providers willing to embrace a more flexible approach, and this trend isn’t slowing down. Local market nuances regarding coverage itself may remain, however in most markets, providers may consider a differing approach if there is an increase in income.
Benefits need to work harder
Our latest research report, The New Global Reward Director, shows how employee benefits need to work harder now than they did pre-pandemic. Employee expectation has risen, and employer obligation has, too. In conversation recently with a global HR director they commented that their benefits needed to work harder – now whilst some of that can be attributed to better promotional and educational comms around the benefits, there’s no doubt that adding some form of flexibility should also be considered.
Of course, this isn’t possible without the right foundations. Thanks to technology, employers and providers alike can use the data they receive through benefits to create more efficient and accurate reports, in turn influencing the local benefits markets to evolve.
A further consideration is employees themselves; for many locations, introducing a platform and benefit selection process can be a new concept. Nonetheless, an intuitive platform and consumer-style user experience via the right technology makes these changes far more accessible for the average employee.
We certainly don’t see the evolution of global benefits move to flexibility slowing down anytime soon, and companies who don’t keep pace will quickly see employees going elsewhere. Employees and HR and reward leaders alike are no longer taking ‘that’s not how it works here’ as a perspective on global benefits provision. By comparing and adopting ideas from elsewhere as part of their global strategy, multinational companies will help drive both innovation and local market changes in the interests of their employees.
If you want to futureproof your organisation for the changes ahead, that means seizing the opportunity now to build the foundation for a global benefits strategy with a centralised, global-capable platform across your locations.
Paul joined Benefex from Mercer in 2019 with a wealth of international benefits experience, having worked with a large number of high-profile, multinational clients to review their approach to global talent and reward. He leads Benefex’s global benefits delivery team and he’s doing an excellent job of it, if we may say so ourselves. He is skilled in international risk assessment and management, legislative compliance, trend research, cross-border claims, and customer relationship management. AND, he can speak fluent French, mais oui!