Many employers use an online portal to communicate benefits to staff and engage them with the schemes available.
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- Simple navigation and mobile access can help engage employees with benefits portals.
- Employers consider the branding of portals to be really important.
- Employers can involve staff in the creation or update of a portal to boost engagement with benefits.
As many as 83% use one to raise awareness of their flexible benefits, according to the Employee Benefits/Towers Watson Flexible benefits research 2014, published in March 2014. So it is important that employers know the best elements to look for in a benefits portal.
Given the abundance of technology in the workplace, it is no surprise that having rapid and remote access to an employee benefits portal is at the forefront of many employers’ minds when implementing or improving one.
Sarah Davis, marketing manager at employee benefits management and administration provider Wider Plan, says: “It’s imperative that employee benefits portals are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are easily accessible outside of the workplace and on mobile devices.”
Remote access is also an essential component to the benefits portal of an organisation that operates internationally. Joanna Bean, head of reward, UK and Ireland at Samsung, explains: “Employees work in different time zones and may need access to benefits information at any time.”
It is also likely that employees will need to access the portal from a range of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. This can be a great way of boosting the take-up of benefits. Adam Maher, business development director, total reward and flexible benefits at Willis Employee Benefits, believes that employers want benefits portals that have mobile responsiveness, regardless of whether it is an international organisation. “We have found that 50% of reward access takes place through a mobile device,” he says.
Organisations may consider incorporating their own branding on a benefits portal so employees find the portal familiar. “Internal branding means that employers have full control and employees feel familiar with it,” says Davis.
In addition, linking an employee benefits portal to the organisation’s social media may also aid engagement, although employers should integrate portals and social media with care, says Nick Throp, director at employee communications, benefits and HR programmes provider Like Minds. “Benefits portals and organisations’ social media pages should only be linked together if the social media is already successful and dynamic,” he warns. ”Benefits are not the right subject matter to introduce on social media.”
A portal’s navigation capabilities can have a big effect on staff engagement – the user journey should be seamless. Samsung’s Bean says: “The wish list is for simplicity: to ensure everything is in one place and that the employee gets a great user experience when they select their benefits.”
Some employers are incorporating employee benefits into one single portal to simplify user experience even more. For example, LSL Property Services introduced ChoiceMatters, which it branded to align with its existing HR systems.
In addition, brewing firm Carlsberg UK relaunched its flexible and voluntary benefits schemes in tandem in February 2015 in order to streamline its two company car policies into a single scheme and improve overall benefits communication. This resulted in reduced administration for the organisation, delivering an 80% reduction in employee queries about car provision.
Many providers now offer bespoke portals that are synonymous to an employer’s branding and culture, as well as the requirements of employees. Such features could include tools to aid staff in selecting which benefits they want and need.
Because the end user’s experience is crucial to the success of a portal, employers may want to ask their employees about their wants, needs and expectations around their benefits and the technology used. Davis says: “Employee engagement surveys can be so effective with realising the benefits that staff want and need.”
Throp adds: “If employers involve employees in the process of deciding on the features of the portals, perhaps with focus groups where employers can get a sense of how their employees feel about different benefits and how they fit together, they are far more likely to work.”
Employers that keep up to date with what employees need in a benefits portal in terms of the benefits themselves are more likely to see better take-up figures. Debra Edwards, head of marketing at Staffcare, says: “Pension planning tools are becoming even more important now given the pension freedoms, so employers need to help their employees understand what they might need for retirement and how to achieve it. Guidance is key to an effective benefits portal.”
Davis adds: “I’ve seen a huge take-up of wellbeing benefits such as employee assistance programmes, health screening and [bikes-for-work] schemes, so perhaps that’s something to be included.”
It is important that employers include all elements on their wish list when designing a benefits portal to see a return on investment in the form of employee engagement and benefits take-up rates.
Column: Portals must be eye-catching and educational
Giving employees easy accessibility to benefits is absolutely key if employers want them to truly engage with a benefits offering. At TalkTalk, we believe that the best way to do this is by providing staff with an online benefits system.
Investing in an online benefits platform can be a huge commitment, so it is important to take a step back and think about what is really needed before taking the plunge.
Whether an organisation is striving to be best in class, wants to ease the internal admin burden or wants to drive employee engagement with benefits, it must be clear on why an online benefits platform is right. For me and TalkTalk, it was all three.
Employers need to think about what is important to their employees and to the team that is responsible for the portal internally. After all, there is no value in it if staff do not engage effectively.
At TalkTalk, the top requirements on our wish list were that the portal: is clean, eye-catching and simple to use; has easy access from anywhere and on mobile devices; encourages employees to return to the portal by providing useful and educational information on benefits; offers reliable data integration; and is good value for money.
Sam Kirk is reward director at TalkTalk
Case study: LSL Property Services brands its benefits portal
LSL Property Services enhanced its reward and benefits package in May 2014 with the launch of its flexible benefits portal ChoiceMatters, which it branded in line with its other portals.
LSL, which owns estate agency brands Reeds Rains (pictured) and Your Move, made the move in response to feedback from its 5,222 staff through an internal survey and its employee opinion portal.
Ben Thomas, reward and benefits manager at LSL, says: “Although we already offered some benefits to employees, we wanted to offer a wider range and some that could be tailored to their individual needs and those of their family.”
As a result, LSL launched ChoiceMatters, which it branded to tie in with its existing HR systems, including its core HR system PeopleMatters, its learning, talent and development portal LearningMatters, and its online engagement survey portal Your OpinionMatters.
Thomas says: “We did this with the aim that employees would more easily identify with the site.”
ChoiceMatters, provided by Benefex, offers LSL employees access to seven flexible benefits: childcare vouchers, dental cover, a bikes-for-work scheme, a health cash plan, holiday trading, travel insurance and health assessments.
Folllowing its implementation, 340 different benefit selections were made through the portal in 2014 and 1,100 different selections have been made by LSL employees so far this year.
Thomas says: “It’s something our staff clearly appreciate. In the first year, 86% of our employees were satisfied with the communications they received on ChoiceMatters, which rose to 97% in our second year .”
LSL also launched an employee discounts portal to coincide with ChoiceMatters, called ChoiceDiscounts.
Thomas adds: “We plan to continue to enhance our benefit offering over the next few years and are surveying our employees to find out what they would like to see in future years. We also plan to further improve the employee experience of the portal by connecting all our benefits systems to ChoiceMatters and enabling single sign-on throughout our benefits technology infrastructure.”