Using your data to make benefits budgets work harder

Intelligent spending: using your data to make benefits budgets work harder
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Ways of working have undergone a permanent transformation over the last year. Full-time office working isn’t a reality for many of us anymore – more likely, we are currently spending a significant portion of our working week at home. This shift is impacting businesses of all sizes. Take energy giant, BP, for example. It recently told its 25,000 global employees that they can expect to work from home two days per week post-pandemic. And it’s by no means the only organization to take such steps – the reality for many businesses is that they will increasingly need to serve a workforce that’s permanently distributed across home, the office and frontline roles.

About the author

Chris Bruce is the Co-founder of Darwin.

Amidst this new landscape, many benefits that were previously a mainstay of reward schemes are no longer relevant to large swathes of the workforce. At the same time, the challenges of the last year have hit many HR budgets, with benefits frozen or slashed as companies strive to keep their heads above water. With all this to overcome, HR teams must re-think how they support their people and make their rewards offerings work harder. The answer, as many are already finding, lies in data.

Delivering against new needs

Well-known perks such as office parties and company away days have been frequent highlights of an organizations’ calendar for decades. But while they certainly have a role to play, they may no longer realistically suit everyone. After all, if employees are based two to three hours from their office, or even in another country, the logistics of uniting everyone under one roof may be difficult to organize and cost-prohibitive. Similarly, commuter-focused benefits such as travel loans may no longer be relevant or desirable for employees only travelling into the office a few days a week.

Instead, organizations should think about their strategic goals for rewards and benefits; in what areas do they specifically want to support their people?

One key area has to be wellbeing. It’s been climbing up the corporate agenda for years now but rocketed straight to the top when the pandemic hit. It’s perhaps no surprise, considering more than half of UK people were experiencing stress or anxiety during last summer’s lockdown.

Data can be vital here, allowing teams to monitor exactly how benefits uptake is changing and spotting new trends among their workforces. For example, if HRs can see that demand for mental health support and counselling sessions is rising, but requests for travel loans are dropping, they can pivot spending to these areas and boost communication around the services and tools available to employees.

Not only is this better for employees, it allows HR teams to make the best use of their budgets. Our research found that 42% of companies are investing the equivalent of 20% or more of an employees’ salary on benefits. With such significant sums being diverted into rewards, deploying data analytics gives HRs invaluable insights into how their benefits programs are being used and if they’re delivering sufficient gains against strategic goals.

Using data to analyze engagement in real-time can help teams refine their benefits strategies and streamline rewards offerings, providing a better return on investment when supporting employees.

Unlocking the power of prediction

Embracing platforms with robust data analytics capabilities not only helps HRs balance budgets in the short term but enables them to forecast future trends too.

Analytics can spot patterns in employee benefits uptake and predict when peaks and troughs in engagement are likely to occur. This means HR teams can begin to anticipate when spikes in expenditure might be on the horizon, allowing them to make strategic recommendations to the board on balancing spend against employee needs.

For example, if spikes in sickness days occur annually around flu season, HR teams can prioritize communications around healthy eating, good nutrition and benefits that promote health and wellbeing. This can help people ward of flu and keep them productive, in work and delivering the most value to their organization.

Similarly, if data highlights that long-term home working is leading to a rise in musculoskeletal-related PMI claims, HR teams can use predictive analytics to model how this trend might develop in future and impact medical insurance costs for the business. This then allows teams to present a data-based argument to executive leadership to increase spending on preventative measures such as benefits that support home working optimization or virtual exercise classes. This would result in healthier, more motivated employees and stabilized medical spending.

Personalizing the rewards experience

There’s no one-size-fits all approach to optimizing employee support. And new, distributed ways of working are creating an even more complex landscape for HR teams. That’s where benefits pots come in. Not only do they give people a truly personalized benefits experience, but they empower businesses to easily track spend too.

Accessed via intelligent platforms, these allow employers to set specific benefits allowances against their organization’s strategic goals, for example, boosting mental health, encouraging employees to save more, or preventing long-term illness. Employees are then able to choose how and when they spend their funding, in a way that suits them best.

Giving people a choice is a sure-fire way to boost morale and loyalty across an organization. In turn, data analytics allows teams to track spending and engagement, giving them the tools to demonstrate ROI, monitor the success of new initiatives and strategies and provide strengthened insights to the boardroom.

Looking ahead

HR teams are spinning many plates when it comes to balancing the needs of a changed workforce with budget requirements. Embracing data and the insights it can unlock will increasingly create HR functions that are more agile, impactful and responsive to new developments or disruptions to their organization. As we continue to navigate the new working landscape, having a strong data analytics offering will make all the difference to those businesses that thrive and those that struggle to deliver the right, cost-effective support that keeps their best people on board and attracts new talent.

Chris Bruce co-founded Darwin in 2000 and as managing director has led on developing the company’s proposition and strategy.