By Daniel Hunter

When it comes to employee benefits, UK employers are missing a trick, according to research by YouGov for Employee Benefits magazine.

“Employers may not be able to afford the most expensive benefits in the current climate, but many are missing out on the opportunity to boost staff retention and benefit from employees who act as advocates for their business, by offering affordable employee benefits” said YouGov’s Dr Michael Wagstaff as he addressed delegates at the Employee Benefits Connect conference in London yesterday (Thursday).

While YouGov’s research for Employee Benefits magazine confirms that just under half (48%) of employers recognise the link between staff retention and benefits, a significant proportion do not. In fact, one in 10 employers say there is no link between staffing and employee benefits, while 36% of employers either don’t know or have no feelings on the subject.

The YouGov research reveals that whilst most employees receive at least one benefit at their current job, some benefits are more widely available than others. The top three benefits received are: a pension of some kind (43%), free car parking (33%), and an annual bonus (25%).15% of employees receive discounts on their organisation’s own products.

However, the research also reveals that employee benefits aren’t simply about money, with many aimed at promoting health and welfare. 22% of employees take the opportunity of flexible working and 15% have private medical insurance, while 12% take up life assurance. 5% of employees benefit from health screening, 4% take up subsidised gym membership and 3% have access to counselling services.

In terms of benefits to business, YouGov’s exclusive research reveals that offering employee benefits can have an impact on costly areas such as recruitment and retention. More than one third of employees with no benefits say the lack of perks make them more inclined to leave their current employer, whereas one in three who do have benefits say it makes them more inclined to stay. 60% of those with three or more benefits can see themselves working for their current employer for the next five years, compared to just 35% of those who don’t receive any benefits.

Revealing which groups are most satisfied with their benefits package, employees receiving three or more benefits are the most satisfied (74%), followed by those working in financial services (64%), employees earning more than £50,000 per year (62%), employees of FTSE 100 companies (58%), those working in professional, scientific or technical sectors (56%), senior managers (51%), and workers in Scotland (51%). Despite receiving fewer benefits, more women (48%) than men are satisfied with the overall benefits package they receive. YouGov’s study also found that women who work part-time (53%) are more satisfied with their benefits than those who work full-time (46%). Greater take-up of flexible part-time working is the key reason for this disparity.

When it comes to which benefits are considered the most important by employees, pensions of any kind emerge as the top benefit, followed by receiving a bonus and then life assurance. Providing discounts on their own and other companies’ products is a relative newcomer to the benefits portfolio, but has quickly gained in importance. YouGov’s Wagstaff believes this is another area where employers have the opportunity to maximise their benefits budget, by selecting affordable but valued benefits.

"There is a clear business case for offering employee benefits to staff; they help to boost commitment, job satisfaction and performance," Wagstaff added.

"Understandably, many employers aren’t able to offer company cars or bonuses, but where they are missing a trick is in failing to recognise that there are more affordable benefits that influence happiness and commitment, such as discount schemes and financial advice. If you want highly motivated, engaged and committed staff, get a benefits programme. ”

“Ultimately employee benefits and advocacy go hand in hand. We asked employees to sum up how they the felt about the benefits they received and three quarters - 76 per cent - said they were advocates for their employer’s organisation, products and services as a result. The fact is that the more benefits employees receive, the more likely they are to act as an advocate for the company. Employers can only benefit from that, yet 26 per cent of large employers say the level of benefits they offer will decline in the next 12 month.”

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