The Benefits Research 2014, which was conducted in March 2014 among 256 respondents, found this was the case for just under three-quarters (72%) of respondents.
Engagement has topped the list of issues shaping respondents’ benefits strategies since 2011, when 71% of respondents said this was the case, followed by 73% in 2012 and 74% in 2013.
Stuart Hyland, business leader, reward solutions consulting at Hay Group, said: “Citing employee engagement as the main issue is good, but I would hope that organisations are doing more behind the scenes to really target engagement for much wider activity beyond benefits, so actually putting benefits into [the context of] total reward or employer branding, rather than focusing on the benefits space on its own.
“Employers recognise the fact that we are entering a new phase in the recruitment market. It is a candidate’s market. Benefits strategies and total reward strategies have a key role in helping employers prevent the loss of key individuals.”
As the jobs market and war for talent picks up, this could also be driving other key trends in employee benefits.
The Benefits Research 2014 also found that nearly half (44%) of respondents introduced a new benefit in the past 12 months. Kim Honess, head of flexible benefits at Mercer, said: “I was quite surprised by that, but I guess that’s reflected in the fact that the recession is coming to an end and organisations are paying more attention to the fact that they really need to look at their employee value proposition.”
It is little surprise that the top core benefit, provided by 89% of respondents, is a pension scheme, especially in view of auto-enrolment. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or counselling are the second top core benefit, provided by 80% of respondents.
Hyland added: “There has been plenty written in the last few years about the impact of working in a recession on people’s mental health and stress levels, so it’s good that we’re seeing EAPs come up so highly.”
In the year ahead, 67% of respondents plan to increase communications to boost employee understanding of benefits, whereas 48% did so in the past 12 months.
Honess said: “It seems the business world has taken on board the fact that the market is picking up again and employers are refreshing the benefits they offer and the way they communicate.”
But Hyland would like to see this figure much closer to 100%. “I am surprised that more employers are not thinking about increasing communications,” he said.
“One of the things I saw employers doing in the recession quite well was focusing on communication. When money is tight, we start to think about making sure employees are aware of all the benefits they get at an organisation. I’m really hoping that the numbers here are not an indication that employers are feeling complacent, that they’ve done that now.”