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Is talking the key to an engaged workforce?


A recent survey by the PMI Health Group has revealed that 77% of employers have never talked to their workforce about incentives to see how influential they are or to indentify what benefits packages they would actually value the most.

This is a stark finding considering that nearly one fifth of employees are influenced by the quality of benefits packages when assessing their career options. Employee engagement can also be dramatically influenced by the scope and nature of benefits available to the workforce.

So what benefits are well-received and effective?

Main trends

Perhaps unsurprising given the government’s auto-enrolment media campaign, the study found pension contributions to be the most desired benefit by a significant overall majority.

However, there was an obvious age divide in those surveyed. Only 7% of employees under the age of 24 classing pensions as influential in comparison to approximately 30% of employees aged 35 and over.

Most of the older employees were based in the South which also suggests that opinions differ depending on where people live and work.

Health-related benefits were also preferred, including life assurance (16% saw this as most important), private medical insurance (14% ranked this most highly), income protection (approximately 7% preferred this) and health screenings (approximately 7% sought them over any other benefit).

These results were also divided depending on geographical and life positioning. In particular, around half of higher earners preferred private health insurance in contrast to only 38% of lower earners. Interestingly, of those who preferred it, the majority were based on the North West and fewest were based in the North East.

There also appears to be a gender divide, with around twice as many male employees ranking income protection more highly than female employees. This could indicate that traditional gender stereotypes still exist amongst the nation’s workforce.

The stereotype that men typically avoid taking medical advice was arguably reinforced by the survey, as only 21% of male employees rated health screenings as a valuable workplace benefit - a 15% differential in comparison to female employees. Of course, this could instead be attributable to media campaigns targeted at women’s health.

The study also highlighted stereotypical trends for car-related benefits, with around three times more men than women viewing a company car as their preferred benefit. More than a third of those male employees were under the age of 24.

However, moving away from typecasts, it seems that younger employees are not alone in preferring childcare vouchers (one in four employees aged between 25 and 34 ranked them amongst their most favoured benefit).

Whilst 45 to 54 year-olds placed very little weight on them, they were a highly-regarded benefit amongst over-55’s - perhaps a reaction to increasing childcare costs and an increasing babysitting dependency on grandparents.

Cash-based benefits such as bonuses and commissions were also highly-featured. These were preferred by 39% of employees earning less than the national average salary of £26,200 - suggesting an income-based divide.

There was also an obvious geographical divide on cash benefits. Employees in the South East place most value on them and those in the North East appreciated them the least.

It’s particularly surprising that 77% of employers have never sought input from their workforce on incentives given that the above preferences vary so widely depending on life and geographical positioning. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ benefits package.

Low-cost incentives

The average annual cost of sickness absence is £600 per employee - a potentially significant total for many employers. However, talking to the workforce about desirable benefits and taking appropriate action will undoubtedly boost morale and engagement, thereby reducing this cost.

The encouraging news is that most employees are not primarily influenced by financially valuable benefits, so increased productivity is likely to be achievable for a relatively low output. For example, employers could introduce flexible salary sacrifice schemes, send thank you cards or introduce an ‘employee of the month’ award.

Further, talking carries no financial cost and it’s the best way to ensure that incentives are suitable and effective. Talking is also invaluable for helping staff to feel engaged and well-integrated into a business.

We recommend that employers keep their benefits offering under review and consult with staff about them on an ongoing basis.

When consulting with staff, we recommend focusing on overall packages rather than individual benefits. Discussing a wider offering is likely to be a more attractive pitch in the current climate, and given the importance of benefits to staff when evaluating their career options.

Finally, employers should always keep clear and up to date personnel records when consulting with staff. It’s crucial to obtain written consent to any changes to contractual terms on conclusion of a consultation process, to reduce the risk of receiving future breach of contract claims.


Disclaimer: Anything posted on this blog is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any general or specific matter. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information. Please contact the author of the blog if you would like to discuss the issues raised.