Mercer: Companies increasingly using flexible benefits

27 August 2014

Companies in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) are increasingly offering their employees flexible benefits, concludes a new research from consulting firm Mercer. Key reasons for the rising popularity of flexible benefits include among others remaining competitive in the labor market and enhancing employee engagement.

In the ‘EMEA Employee Choice in Benefits Survey 2014’, Mercer analysed the extent to which preferences of employees play a role in the health and benefits programs of organisations. More than 600 employers in 17 countries across EMEA participated in the survey.

The results shows that currently more than half of the companies (53%) offer (some form of) flexible benefits to their employees. Looking ahead, then the trend is likely to accelerate, forecasts Mercer, as 79% of the respondents firms states that they have plans to adopt choice and voluntary benefits in the coming two years.

 Mercer - Flexible Benefits

“There’s a growing trend of employers offering employees a greater say in selecting benefits that are most important to the individual,” says Damon Robinson, a senior associate in Mercer’s Health & Benefits business in the UK. “We expect this wave to continue as more companies discover that they can implement choice at little or no additional cost and are safe in the knowledge that their employees will be highly satisfied with the greater range of benefit options.”

Western Europe at the forefront
The research in addition shows that of the three continents studied, Western Europe leads the pack in terms of flexible and/or voluntary benefits*. 29% of the Western European companies offer flexible benefits, while 31% offer voluntary benefits. In comparison, in the Middle East the sum of both these categories amounts to 32% - roughly half of the score of the frontrunners.

Mercer - Flexible Benefits per Region

Global vs Local
The HR consultants also looked at what type of approach companies follow when implementing flexible benefits. The results reveal that, for the multinationals in the dataset (i.e. operations in more than 1 country), two-thirds opts for a local approach. Only 6% admits to having a global template rolled out across all territories.

Mercer - Flexible Benefits Approach

* Flexible benefits include employer-paid benefits, in which employees can exchange current benefits for others that better fit their needs. Voluntary benefits schemes allow employees to use their own money to purchase additional benefits, often at a discount due to collective purchasing power.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

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.