Benefits can counter Brexit

More EU residents are leaving or planning to leave the UK due to Brexit, according to increasing evidence. This is exacerbating an already tough talent market and increasing pressure on companies to enhance benefits and keep their best people.

The number of EU citizens leaving the UK is at its highest for a decade, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures. This has brought net EU migration to its lowest for five years.

Surveys show the UK has become a much less desirable place to live and work among EU workers, and that many are uncertain over their status or no longer feel welcome.

According to research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, three fifths of organisations anticipate that Brexit will make it even harder for them to recruit senior and skilled technical employees in the next three years.

Employers will therefore face a huge challenge to attract and retain staff in the next few years. Improving benefit packages and communication around them are two important ways to do this.

Thankfully, the benefits market has improved rapidly in the last ten years, making it easier for companies to improve their offerings within a realistic budget.

Sue Pemberton, head of employer services at benefits consultant Premier Companies UK, says Brexit makes it increasingly important for organisations to ensure staff understand their benefits. Employers are facing greater demands from employees and Brexit will only increase this, she adds.

“Some big companies offer eye-catching benefits such as breakfast and gym membership, which contribute to rising expectations,” says Ms Pemberton. “Employees have an awareness of what is out there, but do not necessarily understand the value of their own benefits.

“This is triggering greater demand from employers wanting to benchmark their benefits, to ensure they are relevant and appropriate to their workforce, and wanting to ensure their staff understand and value the benefits they get. We can help by analysing their employment strategy and objectives plus factors such as their demographics, what the employees value most, and return on investment.”

However, benefits budgets are also reducing, so companies have to become savvier and creative in what they offer, she adds.

“One important trend is towards employers building a brand as an attractive employer,” says Ms Pemberton. “Location, flexible working, work environment, values, policies and culture all contribute to this.”

Total reward statements are also critical to promoting understanding as they show the total value of pay and benefits, and break them down by cost and value for each, she says.

A comprehensive benefits platform with jargon-free communications is crucial. This should give information about which core or voluntary benefits meet various needs and about other resources available. For example, if the employer has no dental policy, it should show how to get dental help elsewhere. Signposting free trusted resources helps employees manage stress.

Ms Pemberton says there is plenty of room for improvement in these areas for many companies.

“Where support is ad hoc, we suggest upgrading benefits or improving communication to reassure employees and keep them focused on the job,” she says.

As the skills market retracts and recruitment gets harder, benefits could become the differentiator

Companies do not necessarily need extra benefits to improve their offering, providing they ensure existing ones are relevant to staff needs.

Adding relevant voluntary benefits, which employees can choose to pay for at a negotiated discount, is another low-cost or cost-neutral way to enhance the package. Companies can do this with relative ease as the systems and technology available to support flexible and voluntary benefits have improved rapidly in the past decade, says Ms Pemberton.

“Employers are desperate not to lose more important staff, but they can be creative in designing a benefit portfolio that hits the mark. As the skills market retracts, benefits become the differentiator,” she concludes.

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