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Reimagining Benefits to Engage More Holistically

The types of benefit plans employers can offer to meet wide ranging needs and ensure they meet employee's changing expectations. 

Employee benefits and incentives to increase superannuation have always played a key role in helping support employees’ lives outside of the workplace — minimising expenses, providing a financial safety net, and enabling people to enjoy their retirement.

The vast majority of employers — 81% — say that benefits play an important role in building and sustaining workplace culture, which we know is critical in driving a sense of balance.

As employees are bringing more of themselves to work, they are expecting more from their employers. They see their employers as responsible for supporting their overall well-being — inside and outside of work. Much of that support can come in the form of benefits.

The ‘must have’ benefits that Australian employees expect to receive are flexible work arrangements (47%), training and development (41%) and additional annual leave (32%).

Chapter Three: Reimagining Benefits to Engage More Holistically

The additional or improved benefits in highest demand among Australian employees are salary (44%), positive work environment (44%), and ongoing training (43%).

To meet the changing expectations of today’s workforce, employers need to build benefits plans that meet wide ranging needs and ensure that employees fully understand the value of their benefit options.

As well as thinking about what benefits to offer, employers need to be mindful of how employees are informed of the benefits, and the preferred communication delivery of their employees.

Our research found that nearly two thirds of employees (65%) prefer to learn about benefits through one-on-one consultations with their employer.

By contrast, the most common way employers communicated benefits was through an employee handbook.

To meet the changing expectations of today’s workforce, employers need to build benefits plans that meet wide ranging needs

Health and well-being

71% of employees agree that employers have a responsibility for the health and well-being of their employees


What do employees consider must-have benefits?

Flexible work arrangements
Professional training, development and certifications
Additional paid time off/annual leave
Additional employer super contributions/matching schemes
Additional personal/carer's leave
Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance
Employee Assistance Programs (or EAPs)
Medical (health) insurance
Cash payments or bonus/incentive schemes
Health and wellness support
Income Protection insurance
Support program for those returning to work after maternity / parental / carer's leave
Additional paid maternity / parental leave
Trauma (or Critical Illness) insurance
Life (Death) insurance
Employee education assistance program
Discounts or rewards on services/product offered by employer
Ability to purchase additional leave
Allowance to cover health and wellbeing related activities
Financial planning/workshops/financial wellness tools
Networking groups/social clubs
Employee share/equity schemes
Volunteer days
Extended insurance coverage for dependents
On-site childcare facilities/priority access to nominated corporate child care centres

The changing needs of employees

The most important benefits to employees have two things in common

Employee benefits Achieving goals

They play a central role in helping them achieve their personal and work-related goals, and

Employee benefits Alleviating stress

They address their main stressors, particularly around personal finances, retirement, and their family’s health — which overlap considerably.

Meeting employees’ changing needs with a holistic approach to benefits

These benefits are often treated as individual products and communicated in a way that focuses primarily on plan details and payouts — which misses an opportunity to effectively demonstrate both how benefits can work together as a whole package and the role they play in employees’ lives.

Additionally, we found that the personal view of many employers is that the company offer benefits that err on the side of being cost-effective for the business rather than offering what is best for their staff.

If we look at benefits more holistically, we can start to see benefit packages as suites of products that employees can choose from to meet their individual needs.

Traditional benefits — such as additional superannuation contributions, health insurance and additional paid parental leave — are highly valued by employees, and help manage common needs and expenses.

They — along with supplemental benefits, such as life (death) insurance, and Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance — provide a financial safety net that cansupport employees’ diverse needs. However, some employees do not realise they need it.

Many employees believe their private health insurance alone will cover all health-related situations and don’t plan for out-of-pocket costs (such as an insurance excess or unexpected accidents and disabilities) or the impact those costs can have on daily life.

Our qualitative research reveals that younger generations, in particular, believe that they will be looked after by family or covered financially via government bodies should the unthinkable occur. Offering a range of traditional and supplemental benefits — and providing education on how they complement each other — can provide employees a solid foundation of protection.

Life insurances such as TPD, Trauma or income protection (IP) are highly desirable for employees, but only around 60% of employees understand how the benefit works; meaning there is an opportunity for employers to better communicate, if they do offer such benefits.

Meeting employees’ changing needs

When the lines between work and life were more distinct, these benefits provided most of the support employees needed. Now there is a need for an expanded and holistic approach that augments traditional support with emerging benefits — supporting employees physically, emotionally, and financially.

Employers have begun offering benefits like wellness programs or on-site services that can help address stressors around work, health, family commitments,and social commitments — and in the process, they are continuing to bridge the divide between work and out-of-work life, yet further communication or regular iteration of these benefits would be beneficial for those employees who might not be aware they can access these benefits.

These emerging benefits also reflect changing norms. As younger generations delay major life changes, such as having children, and have higher expectations on what work should look like in terms of work-life balance, hours and location worked as well as personal wellness goals, employers are in a position to support these life choices.

And because everyone’s needs and lives are different, the ability to choose offerings and customise a holistic benefits package is increasingly important — in fact, 87% of employees say that the ability to customise their benefits is a must-have or nice-to-have option.

But employers may be underestimating the extent to which employees are looking for benefits that suit their unique situations and answer their personal needs, with only 73% seeing this as important to their employees.

Emerging benefits help employers create the kind of culture that demonstrates a deeper level of care for employees, communicating that their needs are valued and their employer is committed to their success outside the workplace as well as in it.

Emerging benefits are a way employers can support employees whole selves through flexible work practices that allow them to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they need to in the form of flexibile work schedules, additional paid and unpaid leave, as well as company-wide communication blackout periods for mental health.

Life insurances such as TPD, Trauma or income protection (IP) are highly desirable for employees, but only around 60% of employees understand how the benefit works

What emerging benefits interest employees most?

Flexible work schedule
Flexibility to work remotely
Paid leave to take care of family
Summer Fridays (additional time off during the summer on Fridays)
Unpaid leave to take care of family
Company-wide blackout hours
(where no communication is allowed)

Support for financial wellness is rising in importance

Numerous studies have shown Australians are increasingly anxious about their finances or facing financial stress.

Numerous studies have shown Australians are increasingly anxious about their finances or facing financial stress. While many of the benefits we have discussed help employees manage expensive, unexpected life events, there is more that employers can to do to assist their employees with overall financial acumen to allevieate the day-to-day stressors.

Because personal finances is employees’ top concern, helping them better manage short-term and long-term financial situations will help prevent burnout and enhance worklife enrichment.

And while today’s employees feel confident in their finances, the data actually shows that the reality of their situations is not aligned to this confidence.

Nearly two thirds (63%) of people say they are confident in their finances, but more than half (55%) of employees feel stressed at work, with finances being the number 1 cause of stress and retirement being the main driver of that stress. Therefore some people’s confidence is ill-founded.

Employee benefits help reduce financial stress

Employers are overwhelming interested in reducing the stress of their employees, 96% of employers listed it as an important objective. But, many employers are not seeing how a few simple benefit strategies can make a big difference in an employee’s life.

For example, 72% of employees want access to financial planning workshops or tools but only 31% of employers offer this as a benefit. This is where employers can step in with more support that helps employees proactively build savings and also improve employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty.

A third (3 in 10) of Gen Y and Z consider financial wellness tools to be ‘must have’ benefits offered by their employer.

Employers can help increase productivity and reduce employee stress by offering programs that bridge the gap between financial perceptions and financial realities.

However, financial wellness initiatives do not top the list of benefits strategies employers are putting in place. Employees are looking to their employers for this assistance.

72% of employees want access to financial planning workshops or tools but only 31% of employers offer this as a benefit.

Financial wellness programs can help employees improve their situations. But for financial wellness programs to work, they need to be personalised to the employee’s individual goals.

A women in her late twenties paying off her university debt, while trying to save for her first house for her young family, is going to have very different needs to a couple entering retirement who are behind on their retirement savings.

If employees gain more confidence about how to meet their current and future financial needs, it enhances their ability to pursue their personal and professional goals — a win for everyone.

Financial well-being

37% of employees say employers have a responsibility for their financial well-being.


Saving for retirement

35% of employees think employers have a responsibility to help them save for retirement.


Communication is key

But even when an employer has put together a benefits package that addresses the needs of most employees, if employees do not understand the role that benefits can play in their lives, they will not appreciate their full impact.

As mentioned above, employees prefer to receive tailored information, one-on-one.

One way to help communicate effectively to employees is to make communications personalised. By using attitudinal information about employees and employee profiles, communications can be tailored to address different needs of different groups.

That could mean that someone who is worried about finances gets communications about how to manage unexpected expenses, while another employee focused on the best protection for their family gets communications on ways to increase or expand their coverage options.

Employers should focus on communicating the relevance of the benefits packages they offer, including how benefits work together to play an important and useful role in employees’ lives.

Employers must speak to “the benefit of benefits” rather than to the individual products. Salary is, of course, critical, but represents an increasingly smaller proportion of overall compensation.

Employers have a responsibility to communicate the the full value of an employees benefits package beyond the traditional benefits, through to emerging benefits and purpose.

Employers can ensure employees understand what is being offered through confirmation of benefits being sent out, one-on-one consultations with their employees and an employee benefit handbook, which our research shows are the three most preferred ways employees want to hear about benefits.

Communication is key

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The Tangible Tools Employers Can Use Today

In Chapter Four we offer a number of ways employers can address the most common changes in the working landscape to draw candidates and encourage staff retention. 

Read now

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Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019: Thriving in the New Work-Life World has been prepared by MetLife Insurance Limited, ABN 75 004 274 882 AFSL 238 096 (MetLife) and should not be published or reproduced without the prior permission of MetLife. Whilst care has been taken in preparing this material, MetLife does not warrant or represent that the information, opinions or conclusions contained in this document (“information”) are accurate. The information provided in the report and on this website is general information only, current as at the time of production. 

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