Covid-19 turned the world of work upside down. At Drewberry, just like companies up and down the UK, we left our offices in late March 2020 and have been working remotely ever since.
Our own experience of home working, plus our expertise in offering employee benefits advice, gives us a unique insight into the world of workplace benefits and how things need to change in the Covid-19 era.
First, we need to realise it is not a case of whenworkers will return to the office after the pandemic but if they will; and even if they do, will it be full time?
Almost half (45.7) per cent of employees currently working remotely due to the pandemic were either fairly keen or very keen to return to the office according to a recent Drewberry survey.
However, they did not want to do so full time – just 13.5 per cent of respondents wanted five full days back in the office. The most sought-after split was three office days and two at home – 27.2 per cent of workers said this was their post-pandemic working preference.
This will obviously change the way employees use benefits, and also make certain benefits more important for employers to offer than others.
For example, employees working remotely alone, and perhaps not necessarily complying fully with occupational health standards, could mean a rise in mental health concerns and back/joint pain. Employers will therefore have to consider whether they have the right processes (and benefits) to prevent such issues or offer assistance if they arise.
Fortunately, a recent response from insurers – namely improvements to their free additional benefits – are likely to be a big help in this area.
These can include telephone counselling, digital GP appointments and even remote physiotherapy. Employers are increasingly enquiring about these as separate benefits. The industry will have to keep up as demand shifts.
Another new trend is changes to what employees expect from employers. Employers will have to adjust to a world where a majority (51.1 per cent) of workers now want benefits that improve health and wellbeing, for example.
However, despite this, less than half (47.4 per cent) of companies provided new benefits in 2020. Even among those that did, flexible hours and work-from-home options topped the list rather than benefits employees actually want.
To encourage wider take-up, we as an industry must do more to promote the positives of benefits – including stressing the value for money many policies offer thanks to free additional benefits – while also exploring options to offer benefits packages to employers tight for cash due to the pandemic.
In the meantime, individual advisers will likely see a greater opportunity. Unmet employee demand for benefits indicates a potential gap they could fill with individual plans.
In listening to employees’ growing demand for benefits, employers will no doubt ask – with some merit – whether it is right that they are expected to pay for services similar to those that employees should get from the state funded by general taxation.