Tobin Murphy-Coles: The employer conundrum that won’t go away

This article is supplied by Aon.

Organisational chaos and disruption is something everyone in the HR and benefits industry has felt as a result of the economic downturn, and its effects rumble on as business leaders continue to scrutinise their costs.

But one positive effect of this disruption is that it makes organisations stop and think about the way they do things, enabling them to be challenged and change. Most thrive on that to varying degrees.


But this is not a straightforward process for 100 Club members and their counterparts across the UK who are serving three masters of equal organisational importance. 


Firstly, HR and benefits professionals clearly need to comply with government legislation. Secondly, they need to create a benefits programme that makes their organisation an employer of choice. And thirdly, they have a duty of care to do what is best for their employees and to help them make the right benefits choices. Then there is a fourth master: the finance director; all of the above needs to happen within finite budgets.

The spinning plates of this dilemma have to be dealt with, and it is not always appreciated how much time and effort this takes. 

Unique experience

It was a unique experience to sit with some of Employee Benefits’ 100 Club decision-makers and hear their views and the management techniques they use to spin their own plates, big and small, at the Employee Benefits/Lorica thinktank debate in April. 

There were two particularly interesting viewpoints for us as employee benefits consultants. The first is the need to change employees’ perception of independent financial advice and financial education, and perhaps to find a different name for them both. 

The terms financial ‘education’ and ‘advice’ are patronising to staff, who often feel that they are being preached to, so this challenge is two-pronged: the benefit needs to be rebranded as something of value to employees, and one that offers them information that is relevant to their own financial situation and packaged in a sensitive way. 

Roundtable guests expressed concern about the possibility of staff holding their employers responsible for any shortfall in their future pension funds because of a perceived lack of adequate financial education.

Real struggle

Another thing struck us about pensions and financial education: HR and benefits professionals believe it will continue to be a real struggle to get employees to take action, particularly when it comes to contributing more into their pension fund. This is expected to be the case at least until employers’ first wave of auto-enrolled employees retire with far too little money to live on. My crystal ball suggests it will be too little, too late for far too many staff. 

This is something we as consultants are aiming to resolve. Through behavioural research we undertook last year, we know employees’ lack of interest in retirement savings is to do with a lack of desire to change the status quo, a lack of emotional hooks into their pension and an inability to see, let alone look out for, their future self. 


Another common theme at the roundtable was technology, which attendees agreed was key in helping to engage staff. However, they also agreed that employers should avoid implementing a high-tech benefits system and expecting staff to know how to use it, as if it is second nature. 

It is all about making things easier and seamless for all. HR and benefits professionals also want more joined-up administration and benefits platforms with one password for them all, to help minimise the effort required by both their teams and their workforce to use them.

Challenges ahead

These were just two of the issues discussed at the roundtable. Many other challenges face HR and benefits professionals in the future, which they will have to manage at the same time as they keep their plates spinning. And genuine recognition for their efforts is likely to come only from their counterparts, who are perhaps the only people who really understand the size of the challenges ahead. 

The HR and benefits industry has a responsibility to delve into the Employee Benefits/Lorica 100 Club research to understand the problems ahead, and in doing so, professionals can help to minimise the effect of potential market disruptions and ensure they have in place platforms and services that support their efforts. 

Tobin Murphy-Coles is commercial director at Aon (Health and Benefits)

Lorica Employee Benefits is a trading name of Aon Consulting (Benefits)