Important ‘fringe benefits’ offer employees security
With the Guernsey business world gradually getting back to a ‘new normal’ way of working, Susie Brown, head of employee benefits at Gower Financial Services, looks at the impact of Covid-19 on employee benefits packages and how a lesser-known feature may come to the fore.
Coming in to 2020 few of us had even heard of the term coronavirus, yet throughout the year it became the single biggest factor affecting the way we live and operate our businesses. The lockdown rapidly forced us to change our procedures, with the vast majority of office-based workers forced to work from home. This presented as many challenges as it did benefits. While rolling out of bed at 8.30am with just a 10-second stroll down the stairs (rather than half an hour stuck on the Rohais) had its appeal, there were also challenges. When an insistent 12-year-old asks for help with their algebra at 9.30am or the WiFi stops working in the middle of that important Zoom call, the reality of the situation rapidly kicks in.
Looking to the future, employers and employees alike are asking how the workplace will change as a result of all of this. Of course here in Guernsey the children returned to school in June and island life returned to something resembling normal soon afterwards. During the lockdown we generally got the hang of working from home, with virtual meetings becoming second nature for many and it is likely that many businesses will embrace this, which will bring benefits and new challenges for employers.
The pandemic is of course ongoing and we may yet see a return to a lockdown situation in the event of a second wave. With working from home procedures now in place, the business world is likely to adapt quickly if this is the case. During these uncertain times, it is now more important than ever to look after the welfare of staff members and ensure they have all the support and back-up they need as they get used to working in a more remote ‘new normal’ business world.
One such way in which employers can support their employees is to ensure that they are offering an appropriate benefits package. Employee benefits are an important ‘fringe benefit’ offered outside of normal pay awards. While offering higher pay awards may be beneficial to employees by improving their cash flow, by channelling money through fringe benefits employers can ensure that employees have access to a wider range of services which they may not otherwise choose or be able to purchase from their after-tax pay. There are a variety of fringe benefits available in an employee benefits package and many of these are insurance-based schemes such as income protection, private medical insurance, death in service or retirement funding by way of a pension. During the pandemic we have seen a surge in enquiries for private medical cover and income protection schemes. These give access to private medical support, covering intensive care stays or emergency primary health care or can pay a replacement income in the event that income is lost.
Employee assistance programmes
With increased remote working, it is likely that these will have greater importance for employers and employees alike going forward. The mental wellbeing of employees has been a high priority for many businesses over recent years, but the pandemic has highlighted the need for additional support. Clearly it has always been important to have a team that is happy and engaged and feels good about working together. The pandemic has led to uncertainty and stress for everyone, so employers now need to communicate with their staff more than ever. It is highly likely that employees will remember how employers communicated with them or treated them at this time.
Many corporate benefit schemes offer an EAP, but they are generally not as well known as some of the other benefits or as widely used, but this may be about to change. An EAP assists employees with personal and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being. I strongly suspect some employees will have felt quite anxious about returning to work, so any additional support would have been welcome. EAP’s provide free telephone counselling services, are confidential to use and operate 24/7; a really useful back-up in the new normal remote working world that we are moving into.
So, if you are already giving your employees the opportunity to swap the commute for those extra few minutes in bed each morning, or may do in the future, make sure they also have access to the right support to address any issues they may encounter in the ‘new normal’ working world.
u For more information about how Gower Financial Services can help with your employee benefits packages, contact Susie.email@example.com or telephone 700155 – or visit our website, www.gowerfinancialservices.com/employeebenefits.