Stress in the workplace is one of the biggest threats to employers’ greatest resource: their employees. Last year alone, it led to 17 million lost working days in the UK. But despite workplace stress currently reaching record levels, according to a poll by Gallup, it is also not set to abate at any time soon.

There are multiple factors fuelling this steep rise. But time and again, the mounting cost of living is cited as a main reason – particularly since the government’s energy support scheme wound down last month. Despite many employers offering increased pay raises and bonuses,  Blackhawk Network (BHN) Extras’ research found that 65% of HR decision makers (HRDMs) have reported an increase in the number of staff requesting financial assistance since the cost-of-living crisis began.

Investing in existing employees costs companies costs in the long run

There is a rather comprehensive argument in favour of employers finding ways to help their staff as the cost of living becomes increasingly untenable. From a purely financial standpoint, the Great Resignation has continued to frustrate employers – 40% of staff are ready and willing to jump ship to a different company if a better paying alternative presents itself.

And aside from the headache that comes with recruitment, the cost of retaining new talent and the loss in productivity during the intervening time is an added expense, when businesses are already battling rising operational costs.

But even beyond the business implications – people are suffering, and helping their employees, where they can, is simply the right thing for employers to do. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can help take some of the weight off employees’ shoulders.

Employee habits have changed, workplace benefits should too

With budgets squeezed as profits shrink, many employers feel they have hit a wall. They don’t want to see their staff leave, but they’re running out of reasons for their employees to stay. This is when it becomes important to examine workplace benefits. No longer nice, added extras on top of pay – workplace benefits are becoming increasingly critical for people trying to stay afloat. As such, employees are looking for ways to cut their expenses.

For example, in an effort to reduce the cost of travelling to work, more than ten percent of commuters began cycling to work last year. But while employees have been making these changes for some time, a recurring problem in terms of workplace benefits is the disparity between what employers think their staff are looking for and what their employees genuinely want and need.

Take cycling as an example, with over half of employees considering changing to this mode of transport, employers need to take note and make it easier for staff to access cycling equipment utilising this as part of their benefits package.

Shaping work norms around employees’ new lifestyles

Many HRDMs already recognise the power that comes from a solid workplace benefit policy. But unfortunately, a quarter of employers surveyed have no plans to change or expand their benefits packages this year, and only a further quarter have considered expanding their packages in response to the rising inflation. The most important thing businesses can do is to constantly listen to their employees’ ever-evolving needs.

In less financially trying times, perks like gym membership subsidies were incredibly popular. But with people struggling to pay for essentials, financial assistance with groceries has become one of the top priorities that employees are looking for in a benefits package.

Similarly, other circumstances might make it prudent for employers to reassess the benefits they offer, to reduce the stress their employees are feeling. Just a few years ago, flexible working models were for the privileged few. Before the pandemic, office workers in the UK spent an average of 3.8 days a week in the office, but this has since dropped by almost two thirds to just 1.4 days.

Having the option to choose when to go to the office has made some benefits, such as childcare, less of a priority – and many employees would prefer they were subbed out for something more relevant.

The modern workplace benefits package

For employers, one of the best things about workplace benefits is how much the various schemes can offer employees. By working with providers, employers can offer customisable options, vast ranges of different benefits that can be easily accessed and suit individuals’ specific needs.

Employees enjoy flexible working, and the same thinking should be extended to workplace benefits. Every employee has different needs and priorities, and modern benefits platforms offer accessible options that allow staff the options to customise the benefits they receive.

While the benefits of these platforms are undeniable, employers often still feel they are held back by financial constraints. However, there are also platforms available that offer free sign-up-and-go benefits to employers, from cycle to work schemes to discounted technology and white goods, and assistance with grocery bills. Without the sign-up cost, monthly per seat fee, and fixed contract, businesses can provide a large range of benefits that will help their employees save money, without adding additional financial strain to themselves. The cost-of-living crisis is only set to continue.

While the government’s most recent budget assured the public that inflation would be halved by the end of the year, as of yet there have not been any significant changes. But regardless of macroeconomic pressures laid upon their business, HRDMs should always be looking for ways to create the most attractive workplaces.

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