“Employee benefits packages are like oxygen — you don’t notice them until you need them,” said Sarah Lovelace, VP People at spend management platform Airbase. “The most meaningful benefits are the ones that employees don’t have to worry about — because they know they have something they can rely on.”
As the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis, and looming recession all compound, employees are looking to their organisations to provide critical support — though we understand it’s no easy feat for the financial services industry as of late.
While financial incentives may still be plump, ninety-five-hour weeks are becoming headline news. Stress is chronic. Burnout is rising. Talent attraction is harder. Mass layoffs are up. And retention is becoming challenging, with almost 50% of employees indicating turnover intention this year, according to a 2022 EY survey.
Industry-wide cultural change is in the works — but that won’t happen overnight. However, one way organisations can help employees navigate this challenging environment is by assembling a meaningful benefits package.
How Meaningful Employee Benefits Increase Retention and Engagement
Motivation is essential for driving employee engagement and performance. When your employees feel you value, trust, and support them inside and outside of work, they’re more likely to bring their best each day. They’re also likely to feel more committed to your organisation.
A well-curated benefits package can be a key player in fostering this environment — but only if it’s meaningful, inclusive, and contributes positively to your employees’ day-to-day lives.
“Our benefits support us in building an environment of high performance and accountability,” said Kayleigh Smart, head of People at payroll platform Pento. “They also help our team navigate how work fits into life — this is what we optimise for, rather than rolling out perk after perk.”
Using Feedback to Identify the Best Benefits for your Employees
Creating a great benefits package that adds value to your employees’ lives depends on knowing what your employees prioritise. To do that, you need feedback — both on your existing benefits, and what might be missing. You can collect this data in a few different ways:
- Employee engagement survey. Organisations can use data from regular engagement surveys to surface rising trends, and segment data by employee populations to see how priorities differ. For example, if mental well-being feels like a rising trend in your regular survey, you can use this data to adjust mental health support.
- Pulse survey. A benefits-focused survey may help uncover areas where your package is lacking, and bring new perspectives from your employees on what they really value. Make sure you set clear expectations on how you plan to act on this feedback.
- Casual check-ins and meetings. One-to-ones, all hands, and employee resource groups can all provide a useful forum for transparent discussion and communication of benefits, advised Smart.
When asking for feedback on your benefits directly as part of an engagement or pulse survey, it’s best to ask open-ended questions that help you diagnose how meaningful your employees find their benefits, and any issues in finding or using them:
- I’m satisfied with [organisation]’s benefits package.
- I have found it easy to take advantage of [organisation]’s benefits package.
- I’m satisfied with the health care provision provided by my company.
- I know how to use [organisation]’s tuition support scheme.
Smart suggested checking in yearly to coincide with open enrollment, but advises that organisations stay alert to evolving needs in real-time. It’s also key to keep an eye on utilisation metrics.
“Benefits that sound great, but aren’t used by a large proportion of people need to be assessed — are they meaningless, or do they meaningfully serve the needs of a smaller proportion of the team?” she said. “Benefits can also be confusing. [Keeping your eyes and ears open] means you can re-surface, re-communicate, or reshape existing benefits as the business evolves, or easily launch new ones that are more meaningful.”
5 Creative Benefits to Boost Engagement and Morale
In the current macroeconomic climate, meaningful employee benefits can have a huge impact on how valued and seen your employees feel at work, as well as alleviating some key stressors. Curating the perfect package will depend on your organisation’s specific needs — especially in the age of remote work.
“We operate across 15 countries, and it’s important for us to make sure we meet employee needs for cultural norms in each country we’re taking care of,” said Lovelace, who emphasised a focus on communication. “Your benefits could be really great, but if they’re not relevant to your local employees, or your people don’t understand what they are or know how to use them, they become meaningless. It is something we are constantly working on and talking about on the People team at Airbase.”
Here are five key areas you can explore when building a meaningful benefits package for your workforce.
1. Improve work-life balance with paid time off and increased flexibility.
According to a 2019 study published in the Personnel Review journal, there’s a three-way link between work-life balance, job satisfaction, and organisational commitment.
In an industry with historically higher turnover levels, protecting your employees from overwork, burnout, and stress isn’t just important — it’s paramount. One way to accomplish this is by increasing flexibility around working hours and paid time off (PTO):
- Unlimited leave: This gives your employees the autonomy to book the leave as they need to recharge. But it only works if employees feel empowered to take the time off — so healthy behaviours around PTO and workloads must be modelled from the top.
- Flexible working hours: This gives employees freedom, and helps everyone focus on outcomes, not presenteeism. Organisations can make impactful changes with four-day weeks, or flexible shifts that accommodate family and wellbeing needs.
2. Offer benefits for caregivers and parents.
The pandemic shone a spotlight on how caregiving duties are a hidden stressor for millions of employees. Providing support for caregivers and parents promotes inclusion, removes stress, and communicates that their contributions matter far more than counting the hours they spend in the office. Options include:
- Paid caregiving leave: For caregivers, PTO can quickly get filled up with appointments and care needs. Paid caregiving leave gives employees the flexibility to make decisions that work best for them without encroaching on actual vacation time.
- Flexible parental leave: Paid parental leave is a great starter perk, but organisations can optimise this with increased flexibility. Spotify took this approach back in 2016, with parents able to take six months of fully paid flexible leave up until their child’s third birthday.
- Inclusive perks: Gym memberships and out-of-hours activities are unlikely to feel inclusive to parents and caregivers if they don’t have time to participate. Organisations can consider a range of more inclusive perks for working parents and caregivers, including on-site childcare or childcare subsidies, fertility benefits, adoption support, and care sabbaticals.
3. Take a holistic approach to employee well-being.
When it comes to employee wellness, we often think of benefits that promote physical well-being, like health insurance, dental coverage, or a gym membership. But as mental health concerns grow in the financial services sector, employees are increasingly looking to their company for support in all aspects of their well-being. Examples may include:
- Physical well-being stipend: A flexible well-being stipend gives employees the autonomy to choose from a range of classes or service providers that work for them based on their preference and location.
- Mental health support: Employee Assistance Programmes can provide fast access to support when wait times are long. Organisations can also consider providing a subsidy for therapy sessions or other professional mental health services.
- Mental health leave: A 2019 survey by Censuswide and Slater and Gordon found that 55% of employees taking time off for mental health reported their leave as a sick day. Offering mental health leave can help normalise a company culture around well-being — but organisations must create a space where employees feel safe sharing.
- LGBTQ+ support: Many organisations, including Airbnb, offer medical and mental health support for transgender employees, including counselling, gender confirmation surgery cover, and travel costs.
4. Create pathways for professional development.
In our 2021 Career Progression Survey, we found almost 50% of employees are actively looking or considering a new role with better growth opportunities — and the financial services sector is certainly not immune to this trend.
With research suggesting that overall tenure is down, and employee numbers are dropping in this sector, professional development benefits could be your differentiator to retain top talent. Examples include:
- Education benefits: Education benefits demonstrate you care about employee development. Student loan assistance and tuition reimbursement are popular options, but organisations can also consider a 529 plan — a tax-advantaged savings account to help save for future learning.
- Learning support and stipends: Stipends enable employees to curate their learning according to their professional goals. Smart said tools can meaningfully increase accessibility: “Our People and Talent team is currently assessing some aspects of our employee experience, such as accessibility barriers. Easy access to screen readers and spell checkers can help fill some accessibility gaps.”
5. Empower financial wellness.
With increased global uncertainty around job security, it’s little wonder that almost half of the workforce are struggling with financial distress, according to a 2022 CIPD report.
Financial stress negatively impacts employee mental well-being, as well as their ability to perform at work, making financial wellness benefits a rising trend. Organisations can offer financial support in a couple of ways:
- Retirement plan: Times are uncertain, and employees are increasingly looking to their organisation for support for when they leave the workforce. Organisations can help employees plan for the future by increasing their tax-free contributions, or offering a 401k match.
- Financial well-being: A 2021 report by CIPD revealed only 11% of employers actively focus on their employees’ financial well-being. Meaningful financial well-being benefits include access to financial management tools, or individual, tailored coaching.
Feedback is a Vital Tool in Shaping Employee Benefits
As retention and talent attraction continue to be a sector-wide challenge, financial services organisations must stay cognisant of current macroeconomic circumstances, and adjust their benefits packages accordingly.
Leveraging employee feedback on how your employees feel about their benefits during this time is vital to make sure your offering stays meaningful, inclusive, and relevant to your employees’ lives. Taking an intentional approach to benefits will not only provide your employees with vital support during tough times, but it will become a key differentiator in attracting and retaining a great workforce.