As the face of the workplace changes, so, too do the needs and wants of employees when it comes to their benefits. Thomsons Online Benefits has published a white paper about this: entitled Expectations vs reality: the widening gap in global benefits, it examines both what employees want and their perception of what they are getting.

Part of the Employee Benefits Watch series, which was first introduced 14 years ago, the findings are based on a survey of over 2,000 employees working in large multinational organisations from all around the world. It asked the participants, among other things, to talk about their life goals, such as retirement, buying a home, and short-term needs, such as mental wellbeing and whether their employers were supporting them to meet these needs.


Financial wellbeing and retirement


“The research highlighted clear trends about what employees want,” says Matthew Gregson, SVP on Data and Analytics at Thomsons Online Benefits. “Retirement provision remains the average highest need among employees. Whereas in the past it was the only imperative, however, now many other needs have come to the fore.”

In part, this is because of the changing expectations and needs of different generations, as well as a geographically diverse workplace encompassing countries with very different lifestyles and traditions. “We found that younger employees attach far more emphasis to needs such as home, family, work-life balance and fitness,” says Matthew. “Retirement and healthcare benefits remain important for everyone, but younger employees are more likely to express a desire for broader financial support and to be educated about their finances. These are key needs that they say are not being addressed by their benefits today.”

The results varied not only between different generations but also according to geographical location – financial support outside of pension was not as important to employees in North America and Europe as it was in emerging markets, which makes sense considering the maturity of those markets, state and company benefit provisions. Financial worries are the major cause of stress at work: employees should thus be aware of the benefits to their own health of financial wellness benefits.


Across Europe, paid holiday was deemed to be one of the most valuable employee benefits


Holistic wellbeing


The findings highlighted other issues within the workplace. According to the white paper, holistic wellbeing is now of increased significance, with over half of employees globally reporting that the workplace has a negative effect on their wellbeing. Geography also played a part in what employees deemed to be important to their wellbeing. “There are disparities around the world,” says Matthew. “For example, across Europe, paid holiday was deemed to be one of the most valuable employee benefits, probably due to the fact that in Europe there is extensive state provision for retirement and care in old age, which there isn’t in developing countries. We found that in the Middle East, good childcare was a priority, whereas in Africa, fitness and wellbeing were top of the agenda. In some countries retirement is not on the landscape and good healthcare is not widely available, so people’s priorities lie elsewhere. We shouldn’t assume one model fits all employees.”


It’s good to talk


“You can have a well-funded and well-designed benefits programme, but it is most important that you tell your employees about it,” says Matthew. “Technology and communications have a significant role to play as informing employees can be one of the biggest differentiators in driving satisfaction. Even a strong benefits package is impacted most by how it’s delivered. We discovered that where employees felt they had a competitive and relevant benefits package, then 97 per cent would value what they had and be engaged with the company, whereas when benefits were considered to be below par, only 28 per cent would be engaged. We also found benefits are the third most important element in work after salary and career progression in engagement and loyalty.”

And this is important, as a happy employee is a productive employee and one who will have an impact on the bottom line. Matthew adds: “The overall focus for employers should be on employee experience with technology at the heart. Benefits need to align to this principle and be delivered in a way that they can be accessed and used easily, rather than relying on high value benefits that employees have no need to connect with on a regular basis, such as retirement plans.”