Rethinking employee benefits for maximum impact

Opportunities for training and professional development can serve as highly effective employee rewards. | Freepik

Opportunities for training and professional development can serve as highly effective employee rewards. | Freepik

Published Jun 11, 2024


Reo Botes

WHEN it comes to employee benefits (EB), the traditional suite of offerings has begun to fall short of addressing the diverse needs of today’s workforce.

While the standard medical aid, provident fund and group risk cover may cater to certain demographics, a vital segment of employees often gets overlooked – blue-collar workers and those earning lower incomes. The intrinsic and extrinsic benefits that constitute EB must become more than a checkbox exercise, and should be structured to have purpose and make an impact. This means it’s time for human resources executives and people managers to adopt a nuanced approach to benefits and rewards, by considering the specific needs of different income levels within their organisation.

Bridging the gap

When it comes to employees in the mid to high-income brackets, existing EB packages are generally robust and encompass medical aid, retirement savings funds and a variety of insurance coverage. However, the same cannot be said for those earning more modest incomes. These employees receive at best funeral benefits and smaller savings accounts, but a significant gap remains in addressing their comprehensive needs.

To bridge this gap, EB programmes must evolve to be more inclusive and aligned with the earning capacity of each employee. It’s not just about the generic offerings; it's about tailoring programmes that resonate with individual journeys and foster engagement across all income levels and functionalities within the business.

For lower-income employees, access to health protection as an employment benefit can no longer be overlooked. A primary healthcare plan can make a substantial difference in both physical and financial health. By subsidising a portion of this cost, companies can contribute to the well-being of their workforce without imposing a financial burden.

Wellness days can also be a key strategy for understanding and addressing employees' physical and mental health needs. Beyond BMI checks and blood sugar screenings, incorporating services such as mental health counselling, family planning assistance and financial management support can provide immediate value to employees.

Tailored rewards

The focus should not solely be on financial benefits. Rewards are more than just a feel-good addition to an EB programme; they tap into fundamental psychological principles that influence behaviour. When employees are recognised and rewarded for their achievements, it reinforces desired behaviours and improves overall performance.

There are different types of rewards that can be effective, with each possessing its own strength. Financial rewards such as bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing plans directly tie compensation to performance, and can be highly motivating for many employees. Social recognition - encompassing public praise, awards and peer-to-peer recognition programmes - can boost morale, foster a sense of community and encourage collaboration. Additionally, developmental rewards such as opportunities for training, mentorship and professional development, demonstrate a commitment to employee growth and future success.

To implement effective reward programmes, employers should actively seek feedback from their workforce. An anonymous or direct feedback session can unveil critical insights into what employees truly value. It’s important to keep in mind that there are more ways of rewarding employees other than time off or financial bonuses – and the ideal approach would be to create a blend of rewards that employees can use outside the workplace to supplement their income and enhance their overall well-being.

Employers can partner with specific vendors or service providers to offer a diverse range of coupon or discount rewards tailored to their employees' interests and preferences. Examples of these kinds of rewards include grocery vouchers; transport benefits; access to services, such as electronic device repairs; airtime or data vouchers; and workplace childcare during school holidays.

These types of rewards allow for a fixed-cost savings buffer that enables employees to retain more of their dispensable income.

Inclusive approach

A well-designed EB programme will incorporate a variety of reward types to cater to diverse employee preferences and motivations. The key is to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and design EB programmes thoughtfully; aligning them with the capacities and aspirations of employees. It's about understanding that rewards should not only be about the present, but should also contribute to an employee’s growth throughout their journey within the organisation.

The success of EB programmes relies on their ability to be both an attraction and retention tool. Employers must convey a genuine commitment to the well-being of their entire workforce - from the top performers to the support staff.

An inclusive approach ensures that every employee, regardless of their role or income level, feels recognised and valued. The efficacy of an EB programme lies in its ability to be dynamic, inclusive and aligned with employees' diverse needs. Health and financial support are non-negotiable, and rewards should extend beyond the workplace to make a real impact on employees' lives.

By adopting a thoughtful and inclusive approach, actively engaging with staff and tailoring benefits to specific income levels, organisations can create rewarding EB programmes that enhance employee satisfaction while also contributing significantly to the overall success of the business.

  • Botes is MD at Essential Employment Benefits