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Our top benefit trends for 2021

Posted on: Wednesday December 16, 2020

For HR leaders, next year will be all about recovering from the Covid-19 crisis and adapting to its long-term impact on people and business. Get ahead with our five key employee benefit trends for 2021.

1. Greater wellbeing support – especially physical health

Employers have been aware of the importance of physical wellbeing for several years. But never has it seemed more relevant to promote a healthy lifestyle than during the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly as evidence from Public Health England suggests that being severely overweight (body mass index (BMI) greater than 40) increases the risk of losing your life from the virus by 90%.

Of course, it’s not all up to employers. Employees have individual responsibility for maintaining their own physical health through diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices. On the other hand, employers can offer advice and support which can make it easier for employees to follow a healthy lifestyle. This could be by removing financial barriers via a Cycle to Work scheme for example, or supporting their employees to make healthier choices, such as providing healthy food in the canteen.

2. Flexible working

We’ve seen the rise of flexible working over the last few years, which the Covid-19 crisis has massively accelerated. Working from home, flexible hours, job-sharing, and compressed hours have all become much more common and allow employees to combine work with other demands on their time like childcare, exercise, chores etc.

The enforced rise in remote working – which at its peak in April 2020 included 46% of the UK workforce, according to Office for National Statistics figures – has meant that many employees have experienced a better work-life balance; for instance, pursuing a hobby using time gained back from not commuting.

Research suggests that nine out of ten (88.2%) employees who worked at home during the lockdown would like to continue working at home in some capacity. This is a seismic shift which will not snap back after Covid-19. Employers need to adapt to this new expectation of greater work-life balance and offer flexible and remote working as standard.

3. Help with financial wellbeing

The Covid-19 crisis has led to significant economic disruption for UK workers. Many employees may have suffered income shock as a result of themselves or a member of their household being furloughed, on reduced hours, or losing their job. Many workers will be feeling financially vulnerable, with a knock-on effect to their mental health, and ultimately their performance at work.

Now more than ever employees need support in improving their overall financial situation and employers are well-placed to deliver that support. It’s in employers’ interests to support people so they can continue performing at their best, by offering help before money problems become unmanageable.

This early intervention approach is key to financial wellness. By pursuing a strategic rather than reactive approach, you are giving your workforce the best chance of remaining healthy and productive, even in exceptional circumstances.

4. Connection with others

The downside of remote working is loneliness and a lack of connection to colleagues and the wider business. Even in roles where employees have continued to attend their workplace, PPE and social distancing mean that it’s harder to build personal connections than before.

In this environment employers will need to work harder to foster a sense of belonging. You need to show your people that you care. Creating a culture that prioritises social interactions and inclusiveness is much more effective than implementing one-off benefits with no long-term value.

Employee reward and recognition is a good place to start – we all like the warm glow of being thanked for a job well done. Peer-to-peer recognition has been shown to be especially effective in boosting employee engagement. When employees recognise each other’s efforts and receive recognition themselves, their sense of purpose and commitment to work improves.

5. Responsive delivery

The best benefits offer in the world means nothing if employees don’t know about it. However, some organisations face a big problem – when you have a computer-based intranet, how do you reach employees who don’t have email?

Millions of UK workers don’t drive a desk – bus drivers, carers, and factory workers just to name a few. There’s also the growing population of contingency workers and the wider gig economy. So to stay connected to their workforce, employers are turning to tech-driven solutions.

The best employee engagement platforms allow employees to access everything they need: anytime, anywhere. Being enabled for mobile is a key part of this, since people in the UK now check their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day, according to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report (2018). It’s important to recognise that the way we access information is changing and relying on desktop intranet won’t cut it anymore.

For instance, having access to a mobile-enabled platform makes it simple and convenient for employees to recognise a colleague for their hard work, even if both are working remotely and/or on the go.


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