HR benefit programmes finding a lack of traction at UK businesses

20 September 2016 Consultancy.uk

Benefits remain a crucial part of the package employers use to attract and retain talent. New research finds that topics such as salary and remuneration are making strides up corporate agenda's. HR departments are, however, running into difficulties regarding the development and deployment of plans, from lack of resources to lack of will from management, even while the implementation side tends to go relatively smoothly.

Changing expectations from millennials about company values and the beginning of the baby boomers' retirement boom mean that attracting and retaining talent is likely to become more difficult in the years to come. While employee pay remains a key means of attracting and engaging employees, benefits are more and more often required for employees to join a company and to stick around. In a new report from LCP, titled ‘Thinking smarter: Insight into employee benefits from HR decision makers’, the consultancy firm explores what 100 HR professionals are currently thinking about changes within the benefits ecosystem.

Employee benefits on business agenda

Strategy drivers

The survey highlights that leveraging benefits as part of a wider business and HR strategy remains relevant to the business agenda. At 54% of organisations surveyed, benefits are moving up the business agenda, at 26% it is already high on the business agenda and at 17% it remains static on the agenda, while for 3% of organisations it has moved down.

According to the respondents, the main drivers for benefits to feature highly on the agenda are that organisations need to be seen as supporting people (48%), the organisations needs to be market competitive (43%), and the organisations needs to become a more attractive employer by increasing benefits choice and flexibility (41%).

Aligned with strategy

The survey also asks respondents about the importance of various conditions surrounding HR benefit packages as well as the satisfaction of the organisation’s performance in bringing about alignment. 90% of respondents said that it is important that employee benefit packages align with the overall business strategy, while 46% of respondents are satisfied with their businesses performance in the area. Measuring the contribution to the business made by employee benefits packages and initiatives was cited as important by 76% of respondents, of which 21% said that they are satisfied. Future proofing employee benefit packages was cited as important by 80% of respondents, with 41% satisfied with their organisations’ efforts in the area. Across all three categories combined, 16% of respondents were satisfied.

Holding back HR professionals

According to respondents, HR professionals face a number of issues performing their respective roles around the development and offering of benefit packages to staff. Top of the list, as cited by 67% of respondents, is that they lack a budget to fund development work for making changes, while 64% of respondents say they lack budget for the funding of required contribution levels to the benefits.

Additional problems faced by HR are cited as lack of management/manpower within the HR/benefits team, IT/infrastructure constraints, lack of senior management buy-in for change, and making a strong business case for benefits. Other problems cited by respondents, included a lack of appetite for change at the organisation, diversity of the workforce, lack of clear responsibility for benefits, and trying to find/source new benefits.

Current and long term priorities

Respondents were further asked to describe their company’s current and long-term priorities around benefits. According to the surveyed HR experts, the top current priority (cited by 47%) is dealing with pension changes and knock-on effects from benefits, while 41% expect it to be long-term priority. Employee wellbeing and mental health comes in as the second to top current high priority, as cited by 40% of respondents, while 46% of respondents expect it to become a long term trend.

Longer term trends, with lower levels of current concern, include enhancing the user experience, as cited by 54% of respondents, and exploring new technology for delivery of benefits, as cited by 47% of respondents – 29% of respondents do not, however, believe that this will become a priority at all.

Satisfaction with project processes

Strong implementation

Furthermore, the survey asked respondents to rank how satisfied they are with their project processes regarding employee benefits packages. 22% say that they are dissatisfied with the scoping/planning stages of their most important employee benefits projects of the past two years. 68% are satisfied (or better) with post-launch follow up of the rollout of a package, while 72% of respondents are satisfied (or better) with the execution of the launch. 74% say they are satisfied (or better) with stakeholder engagement.

This highlights that while strategy surrounding employee benefits tends to be problematic for HR departments, the actual implementation phase of benefit programmes appears to be going relatively well at the organisations surveyed.

About the report’s findings the authors remark, “HR decision makers are keen to align benefits to the business needs, whilst at the same time ensuring that measurements of success are agreed with all key stakeholders at the outset. Most respondents are also looking to use technology to future proof their benefits package better understanding the needs of their employees.”

Another recent report on the HR landscape, by accounting and consulting firm EY, found that HR technology is becoming increasingly important as an enabler for benefit programmes, as well as for human capital objectives in general.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.