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Global Employee Benefits Trends: The Tipping Point

Key findings from Thomsons’ 2018/2019 Global Employee Benefits Watch Report.
By: | October 1, 2018 • 5 min read

Thomsons Online Benefits conducts an annual survey of multi-national employers to ascertain trends in global benefits, the ‘Global Employee Benefits Watch’. The following is a summary of this year’s findings.

Benefits professionals are under pressure. The costs of providing benefits is rising, fueled predominantly by the increase in health insurance and retirement costs associated largely with an ageing workforce. This can be seen most starkly in the United States, where, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics[i], benefits accounted for 32% of total employer compensation costs.

So, it is not surprising that benefits are under renewed scrutiny by the C-suite.

This intense inspection reveals that a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits will not do. Today’s employees resist categorization, demanding exceptional and individualized employee experiences, underpinned by trust and transparency… and they expect this from their benefits experience too.

However, this is not the only pressure on benefits professionals, who face a conflicting set of priorities. The number one global benefits strategy objective is now to “attract and retain talent” followed by “enhancing employee engagement.”

As a result, benefits professionals are now reaching a tipping point; there are so many demands on the function that inaction is no longer an option.

Benefits strategy top priorities

Attracting and retaining talent is by far the most important objective of an organization’s global benefits strategy.

Last year 65% of organizations taking part in Thomsons’ research said their number one global benefits strategy objective was to ‘attract and retain talent’.

This year the number has risen sharply, with 82% saying this is now their number one objective. As a business priority, it is closely followed by ‘enhancing employee engagement’ at 65%.

Top underlying objectives of global benefits strategies

Getting global strategy right

Our research revealed only 31% of organizations have had a defined global benefits strategy in place for three or more years.

While most organizations have either already implemented a global benefits strategy, the research once again reveals a mismatch between what organizations want to achieve and how their benefits strategies meet (or rather fail to meet) these goals.

One of the most worrying findings is that only one in three organizations researched believed their benefits strategy “is aligned to their people strategy”. Yet organizations largely understand that a well-aligned and clearly defined benefits strategy makes the delivery of global benefits objectives more successful.

Without the right strategy – one that is underpinned by appropriate technology – organizations will struggle to leverage this to provide an authentic employee experience.

Global Benefits Strategy

Flexible tech and the drive for diversity

Never before has the emphasis on individuality been so pronounced. We will soon have five generations in the workplace at once. Up until this point there has been three or four generations at a time. This is going to create a huge impact on the types of workforce behaviour, what motivates employee engagement, and the tools and practices employees need to interact. This mixed, multi-generational environment is a new diversity challenge for HR organizations everywhere.[1]

Personalization of benefits and communication in moments that matter

One of the most revealing set of findings in this research looks at when organizations are communicating about benefits with their employees and what they are talking to them about.

More than half (51%) of organizations surveyed this year, say they have either implemented flexible benefit plans with a further 14% considering doing so in future.

In addition to providing employees with the flexibility to choose benefits that are relevant to them, benefits communications play a key role in making employees feel understood and supported by their organization.

Employers need to use these strategically to contact their people at the moments that matter – whether that is reactively (birth of a child) or proactively (anticipating retirement).

Communication and Self-Service

A benefits function in flux 

Benefits professionals are currently feeling the pressure from all angles. They are increasingly required to achieve more for less, balancing competing demands. It’s time for benefits professionals to commit to using technology to meet the multiple requirements on their time. This will enable them to provide much-needed clarity on spend and focus on high-value strategic work for the HR function, while providing certainty that every base (in terms of employee coverage and compliance with local legislation) is covered.

The data driven game changer

Six in ten benefits professionals believe that the use of data mining, statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to make data-predictions about the future, is a game changer[ii] – one that could drastically increase engagement with workplace rewards and benefits.

Data analytics is now one of the key skills of benefits professionals require – particularly if they are to play a more strategic role. Looking to the future, if benefits professionals can help their organizations to better prepare for the impact of macro trends (such as an ageing workforce on benefits requirement and spend), they will be in a much more influential and powerful position.

Communication will be key in ensuring that employees understand why their data is being used and also how it will benefit them as individuals.

In Summary

Benefits teams have seen their function evolve from purely providing protection and security for employees to pure strategic talent management – attracting, retaining and engaging the best people.

At a time of austerity and pay restraint, employee benefits are now seen as a key differentiator.

They are also increasingly being differentiated, with greater personalization of benefits so that they can appeal to different demographics.

Employers are also changing the way they communicate about benefits, personalizing this to target different groups of employees and maximize engagement. Communication is also increasingly proactive rather than reactive with a growing trend to engage with employees around significant life events.

As this year’s research reveals, we have now reached a tipping point where more benefits teams are adopting new technologies than not, and the pace of innovation is increasing. With administration increasingly automated, this technology is freeing up benefits teams to do more strategic (and arguably more interesting work).

Going forward, how benefits professionals manage to deliver a more tailored benefits experience, while protecting the privacy of their employees, is going to be a key challenge. One of which those who have already reached the tipping point of delivering strategic value will soon face.

Get the complete Global Employee Benefits Watch report



[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rawnshah/2011/04/20/working-with-five-generations-in-the-workplace/#6599110d3e7a
[i] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf
[ii] http://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/ai-big-data-analytics-transform-rewards-benefits-industry/109269