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What are the employee benefit challenges facing employers after lockdown?

The global lockdown against COVID-19 pandemic has stirred much fighting talk and fostered a spirit of getting through it, echoing the sacrifices that populations around the world made in the past when misfortune struck.

The global lockdown against COVID-19 pandemic has stirred much fighting talk and fostered a spirit of getting through it, echoing the sacrifices that populations around the world made in the past when misfortune struck. We are now reaching the rebuild discussion stage.

The pandemic has changed life across communities and borders, not only in terms of how work will be organised in future, but in how employees respond to the demands being placed on them. Work and social life have been fused together in the face of home working and with people being on furlough. On top of this is the whole uncertainty that is being created in the minds of employees over job security, as news bulletins are filled with announcements of staff reductions in many business sectors and the steep drop in UK monthly GDP growth (1).

For employers it is now time to start understanding how these changes will impact on the behaviours of employees and consequently on business performance. Employers need to put together planned steps to manage the required economic upturn.

A recent survey of UK employees by Canada Life found that almost half of employees are feeling the strain of remote working, with 16% working through sickness because of redundancy fears (2).The survey also found that one in three employees (35%) have continued to work while unwell during the coronavirus crisis. With 41% of 26-34 year old’s admitting to working while they were sick, as did 33% of 18-25 year old’s, compared to just 20% of over 50s. This piece of insight should be worrying for employers, as this behaviour should not be seen as the stoical British resolve in the face of adversity, because employees who ‘keep going at all costs’ will not drive entrepreneurship and productivity. Employers need to take stock and look at how they support their people.

There appears to be too much oversight being put in place by management teams, with a quarter (24%) of employees saying that they felt the need to prove that they were working each day, with 22% checking in with their colleagues or managers more often, and one in five (21%) checking their emails more regularly outside of working hours.

This is not to say that employees are not being conscientious, with nearly a fifth (18%) have been working longer hours, 15% are taking fewer breaks during the day, and over one in 10 (12%) are taking no breaks at all. With home working, a quarter of employees are starting work earlier; 24% arranging their hours around childcare, whilst at least one in five (22%) are finding working from home more stressful than being in the physical office.

The results of the survey provide indicators of the issues that employers need to think about and the support measures they should have in place to help employees and their line managers work through the new economic landscape.

 

What are the practical steps that employers can take to support employees?

In a time of increased anxiety and uncertainty, there are several ways that employers can help to reassure and provide support to their employees. The steps that are chosen by employers will hugely help inspire and demonstrate that the employees are key to the business’s future. Here are some areas for consideration:

 

1.Reward and recognition programmes

It is easy to put in place a rewards and recognition platform which provides products for any and every achievement. Rewards can be provided via a retail discounts platform, whereby staff can benefit from a wide range of shopping discounts. Employees simply register to get access to a range of discounts, from cash back to online discounts, and with a wide range of digital gift cards available, employees can start saving immediately on their purchases. Recognition programmes can range from, small tokens of appreciation to high-end bespoke awards for major career achievements. These programmes can be set to meet every budget requirement.

By recognising your employees, you provide the positive reinforcement needed at this time and remind them that their work is both appreciated and has value. In doing so, you increase morale and motivation, which further enhances their loyalty to your business.

 

How would a recognition programme work?

The recognition platform is designed to enable employees to highlight achievements and standout work of their colleagues. Values and goals are set for the entire company or for individual teams, from which, employees can give kudos, thanks and congratulations as and when it is deserved to those employees who achieve the values. Recognition is monitored by administrators via an Engagement Dashboard, from which managers can assess who their most active champions are. Budgets can be set to incentivise outstanding efforts, as well as running employee of the month nominations.

The benefits of the scheme are:

  • Immediate on-line reward delivery
  • Customised e-cards
  • Peer-to-peer nominations

 

2.Health and safety – Looking after employee wellbeing

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the demands of social distancing has significantly increased the popularity of cycling. From being just an option, to one of a must use forms of transport for those needing to travel to work and importantly as a means of exercise for those working remotely or on furlough.

As lockdown has begun to be eased during June, there has been an increase in the use of public transport as people have started using it to get to work. Face coverings will be required on public transport and in areas where social distancing cannot be accommodated (3). This change strengthens the safety aspects of cycling as a means of transport both in terms of getting to and from work for the short and long term.

We have been finding at Busy Bees Benefits that our cycle2work scheme both on our benefits platform and as a stand-alone scheme is proving to be increasingly popular with employers and their staff as a way to avoid the use of public transport.

 

How does the cycle2work scheme work?

The cycle to work scheme is an affordable way to purchase cycles, as it a Government-backed initiative which helps employees save 25-39% on the cost of bikes, e-bikes, cycling accessories, clothing and bicycle components by spreading the cost interest-free (typically over 12 months) through a salary sacrifice arrangement.

New guidance by the Department of Transport in 2019 removed the previous budget cap of £1,000 on any purchase. Which means that cyclists can now get bikes through the scheme over £1,000 which makes e-bikes fall easily within the scheme. This means that employees can save on the total cost of the package, not just the first £1,000 as previously.

Employees can choose from a vast range of bike brands available in the UK market. The employer will then provide employees with their chosen bicycle and take an equivalent amount of the employee’s normal salary as a salary sacrifice. Unlike the salary, employees do not pay any tax or National Insurance on the value of the bike so they can save between 25-39% on the costs, a significant amount of money to save. Employers save too! Not only will they recover the full cost of the bike, they also have a NICs saving up to 13.8% of the value.

 

Managing stress, anxiety, and mental health support

Managing stress and anxiety and its impact on employee performance has become a key focus over the last four months, since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Our Employee Assistance Programme is a valuable scheme that is designed to give employees support when they need it most and it helps employers to reduce sickness and absenteeism while improving employee performance.

The programme provides employees with a telephone counselling service and an online help system to assist staff with a wide range of issues. The qualified and experienced practitioners are trained to deal with issues such as stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties, bereavement, anxiety, family worries, alcohol/drug abuse, employment problems and financial concerns.

Through an Employee Assistance Programme, employees will have access to confidential, caring support, encouraging them to talk about any problems that may be putting them under strain.  We can also offer structured counselling plans including telephonic and face to face sessions. There are also lots of practical on-line tools that can provide assistance and support.

 

3.Learning and development

Giving access to learning and development programmes is an important way in which to support business growth. In an environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to be able to transfer the majority of previously delivered face-to-face learning events into immersive online/virtual learning. Popular topics at the moment include:

  • Training in a virtual environment, covering collaborative working in a remote team
  • Delegation and supervision of remote working
  • Enabling high performance
  • Managing change
  • Maximising performance and prioritising for success
  • Stakeholder management

Learning & development from Busy Bees Benefits gives employees access to a wide variety of courses from some of the world’s leading learning institutions and encourages continuous learning to keep brains active and healthy. Whether employees choose to take part in a course for their professional career development, to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, there is something for everyone. Employees simply browse the library of courses; choose those they want to undertake and complete them. Some 92% of courses are free of charge to accomplish, with some having the option to add verified certificates for a nominated fee upon completion.

 

In summary

The new working arrangements that are having to be put in place will last for the long term, meaning that employers and employees will have to learn how to transition between home working to office/factory/warehouse working. This transitioning will put strains on working relationships and performance, so careful consideration needs to be put in place about the nature and content of the benefit programmes. Every workplace needs to consider its own position and what support arrangements it needs. Benefit providers such as Busy Bees Benefits are there to help structure and support employers put these in place.

Notes:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53006073 Centrica announces job losses. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52990612?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business&link_location=live-reporting-story retail job losses. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/may/14/ba-to-press-ahead-with-job-cuts-plans-despite-furlough-extension-willie-walsh-coronavirus-airline

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53019360

  1. Canada Life Survey https://www.canadalife.co.uk/news/redundancy-fears-causing-increase-in-presenteeism-during-lockdown
  2. https://westbridgfordwire.com/transport-secretarys-full-statement-on-coronavirus/

 

 

Wojciech Dochan

Managing Director, Busy Bees Benefits

Provider of the SmartHive Platform

Smart Hive is an integrated, cost effective employee benefits platform that provides your employees with access to all their health and wellbeing benefits in one place. Talk to a member of our team today or book your very own demonstration.