How to engage employees with benefits on a small budget

Engagement tends to be a bit of an overused and over-complicated term these days. It’s simply about getting to know your people better and fostering an environment that they want to be in: one that is supportive. The knock-on effect being improved quality of work, attendance and perhaps even loyalty.

Engagement may be achieved by tailoring wellbeing benefits and services – whether they be physical, psychological or financial - to individual need. And that’s as costly as you want to make it: from better targeting of employee communications to ensure Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) usage and/or use of wearables to promote self-care, to using health assessments to highlight individual needs and signposting them to appropriate services. 

In that sense, it’s important to focus on individual needs first and foremost, before even considering benefits. In other words, help employees gain an understanding of what their physical or psychological needs are, in the process encouraging them to seek out the help they need from benefits and services. This is all about employers supporting and promoting self-care.

Getting to know your people does become somewhat more problematic when you have subsidiaries in more than one country, or where you have remote workers, but this isn’t insurmountable in today’s connected world and with insurers experienced in a multinational environment. 

Arguably though, the biggest problem faced by HR managers is not necessarily engaging employees with benefits, it’s getting sign-off to put those benefits in place in the first place.

ROI out, outcomes in

Pretty much every HR manager knows they should be “doing” wellbeing and engagement. Intrinsically, it makes sense. But getting senior management buy-in is notoriously difficult. The problem is that everyone gets hung up on return on investment (ROI): firstly how to measure it, and then how best to interpret it.

What if that issue was removed from the equation? What if you didn’t need to factor in ROI calculations because you hadn’t invested much – if anything – in having all the wellbeing benefits you could possibly need at your fingertips? That would leave you to focus on much more meaningful outcomes: identify what you want to change, put in place the measures to make the change, assess whether it has worked. Simple and more of which below.

“It is important to set targets / KPIs that matter to you – the employer, and that you understand,” comments Dr Umang Patel, clinical sirector of virtual GP Babylon, and one of Generali’s wellbeing investment matching partners. “If a provider offers you 4 x engagement, find out what that means and ask for case studies to show how that has resulted with a positive impact.”

Cost effective engagement: Top 3 tips

1) Tailor existing wellbeing services & insurer support for new initiatives to employee need

The first job is to find out what your employees need and value. This may be achieved via widespread surveys – there are free survey tools out there so this needn’t cost anything. Face-to-face focus groups are also useful to help probe more deeply into aspects highlighted by the survey. This information can be combined with absence and claims data to give a fuller picture.

As for the benefits and services needed to meet identified needs, these are probably already available to you via your group income protection (IP) provider. Many employers will already have group IP in place to help cover the costs of mandatory and voluntary sick pay obligations. 

This is available for a very small percentage of payroll and comes with a vast range of wellbeing benefits and services at no extra cost. These are often made available to all employees of a group IP policyholder (in other words the employer) whether they are insured under the policy or not, plus their dependants. They range from EAPs, Best Doctors, wellbeing HR platforms and eldercare support services to personalised pathways in mental health, cancer, heart disease, chronic pain and fatigue.

These types of add-on services, available in many countries around the world, address the cultural and health needs of your local employees. 

On top of this, some providers will also help clients fund any initiatives that fall out of the remit of all these services where a specific need is identified.

2) Ensure effective communication

There’s no point having all these great benefits, services, and initiatives in place if employees don’t know they’re there. Some providers offer considerable communications help in the shape of a self-serve communications portal that HR can use to produce their own employer-branded wellbeing packs.

This can also include regular employee newsletters and even online employee training seminars on things such as healthy eating and maintaining a healthy heart.

Employees can access valuable information in the form of articles, forums, videos, screening tools and self-help programmes via an App that can be downloaded onto iOS and android devices. Tailoring information to workplace demographics is obviously important to ensure engagement. This is made much simpler via technological means. Speak to your provider to find out what they can offer.

3) Assess outcomes

It’s important to set goals that matter to your specific business, as mentioned earlier. After pinning down the end goal, the next job is to combine all the relevant data sources to ensure successful targeting of initiatives. Most insurers and third party wellbeing providers should be able to help in this regard. Insurers can help with claims data and, in some cases, absence tracking. 

Wellbeing service providers of things like EAPs are all geared up to report statistical data, usage rates, presenting issues and other demographics to the employer to help them see the benefits to both the business and employees. Of course, in order to get a truly meaningful picture though, this data be combined with feedback and insight from employees.

Jade Croucher, account manager at Doctor Care Anywhere, and also one of Generali’s wellbeing investment matching partners, comments: “The best way to monitor and gauge impact of your wellness strategy is to ask employees themselves. Regular feedback will mean that you will hear what is working and what is not, to refine and improve your strategy. You will get data points to validate the services you are using are having a positive impact, and your employees will feel like they are contributing to the benefits available to them.”

Wellbeing = engagement

It’s telling that today’s workplace wellbeing programmes cover less than 9% of the global workforce – primarily those who live in industrialised countries or work for large, multinational firms. Employers are perfectly placed – and indeed have a vested interest in – putting in place targeted programmes, according to need in the particular countries in which they operate and supporting national health and wellness focal points – for example, mental health issues in the UK, heart disease in Canada, cancer mortality in France and the obesity crisis in China.

In short, getting the message out there that wellbeing benefits can be made accessible to more employers is vital to improving employee engagement.

Simon Thomas is director – UK Employee Benefits, Generali.