There’s not a single sector that hasn’t felt the impact of 2020 – and benefits is no exception.

Many column inches have been dedicated to the changes Covid-19 has expediated, with initiatives previously set to take two or three years, rolled out in a matter of months. This catalysing effect has been felt in employee benefits too. Benefits have never been so relevant or the way they’re delivered so important.  

As leaders seek to support employees through continued turbulence and ensure their offering remains fit for purpose in the changed world of work, I expect to see significant change in the following three areas:

I’ve been flying the flag for benefits personalisation for almost a decade now. And last year showed why this is so necessary. With people working in vastly different situations, we simply can’t view employees as a homogenous group anymore.  

Moving forward, I anticipate rapid adoption of benefits pots. Accessed online, via any device, these allow HRs to allocate spending to strategic areas, such as wellbeing, while giving employees the freedom to choose the support that they value most. This could be through alternative savings options, virtual healthcare services, support with childcare or even access to activities that help brush off the pressures of remote working. If people can choose the rewards that impact their lives in the most positive way, they’re more likely to feel valued by their organisations and engaged in their roles.

The shift to centralisation
The pandemic also catalysed the shift towards centralised systems. This change is motivated by the need to provide a consistent employee experience for all employees and keep an eye on benefits spend.  

We know that the percentage of employers spending 25% or more of their overall wage bill on benefits doubled in 2020. Centralising systems allows teams to quickly see and analyse data for all employees. This gives them a more accurate view of the needs and behaviours of the whole workforce, including the commonalities and differences between markets.

Amidst turbulent conditions, this also allows for far more accurate cost tracking. HRs can identify where costs are spiralling or areas and markets that would benefit from greater investment and support. This provides valuable insights for the C-suite and can help to unlock greater investment at board level.

As workforces continue to be decentralised this year and beyond, I expect to see benefits centralisation rocket up the HR agenda.

Employee experience
While some employees have enjoyed working from home, few will feel more connected to their employers as a result of this. We’re all hopeful that as 2021 continues, the economy will improve, and the employment market will see a welcome uplift. There’s already appetite for change among employees – 64% of Americans were considering a job move in 2020 and one in four Brits are looking for a career change this year.

If businesses want to hang on to their best people, and even attract new talent, they need to consider the employee experience they offer. Enterprise tech has always been a factor in this, but when every connection with a company is through a laptop, this is even more important.

But it’s not just employee-facing technology that impacts the employee experience; HR tech too must be simple and even enjoyable to use – otherwise teams just won’t engage with it. And they really need to, because technology and the data insights derived are the cornerstones of any effective benefits strategy.

If HR and benefits leaders don’t understand how employees are engaging with their benefits, they won’t offer relevant support. Getting benefits technology right for HRs, therefore, is critical to providing a great employee experience to workers.

Prioritising your greatest asset
If 2020 was the year our world turned upside down, 2021 will – all going well – be the one where we see some return to order. However, business leaders should think twice before reverting to old norms. Now is the time to really consider whether the old way of rewarding employees is still fit for purpose. If not, it’s time to change benefits. For good.