Whether the almost ubiquitous move to remote working and working from home fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic has been a good or bad thing is probably a matter of personal opinion.
Of those reading the blog, it might be fair to guess that the split would be pretty even between those who have found remote working beneficial and those who would welcome a full-time return to the office (assuming it is safe to do so of course).
However, recent research has shown that the split is actually far more nuanced. Many have found that there have been benefits, but are also concerned that the switch to remote working is storing up longer-term problems.
There is a fear that while there might be some benefits in terms of productivity there are downsides linked to mental health and an ability to switch between work and home life.
We will run through the findings, but a key takeaway is that employees may have greater need for things that help them to de-stress, especially as the home, formerly a low-stress zone, is now associated with work.
Is this an area in which workplace benefits can play a crucial role?
Much of the focus on remote working has been on the output.
There has long existed an underlying mistrust towards remote working, setting-up in the spare room rather than the office.
In many instances we have seen this was an unmerited fear, employees have been punctual and their output has not dropped – indeed many have spoken of getting more done, with no commute and a reduced likelihood of taking lengthy (justified) breaks.
Rather than there being more distractions, there are often less. At home, in many instances people just sit down and work – there are no colleagues to talk to (bar video calls and the like), you’re not going to be getting the teas in for a room full of people.
However, this may be a short-term trend. The long term worry is that many people are finding it stressful, problems are brewing.
The Adaptavist Digital Etiquette Study looked at employees across the globe, including many in the UK.
We don’t need to focus on the productivity findings here – suffice it to say many benefits were identified (details in the survey via the link above).
However, worrying trends were:
Workplace benefits could play a key role in providing a link between the employer and a now physically disparate group of employees.
The benefits themselves could also be designed to help relieve stress and promote mental wellbeing.
We wrote in a recent post how these benefits have changed from being a nice to have, to an essential service. With employees working remotely, the fact that the employer offers a range of benefits shows that they are thinking of employees.
The benefits act as a reason to contact employees beyond simple work matters. They help to reinforce that the employer appreciates that there needs to be a work-life balance. They don’t expect people to be always working, always logged in, they can be at the gym, or eating out, or planning their next holiday.
This benefit is hard to quantify, but that should not downplay its importance. It encourages a psychological shift, a shift from simply thinking about work and a sense that it is impossible to switch off, to a mindset that is more balanced and altogether healthier.
The benefits themselves have to be compelling.
To achieve this, an employer must offer a wide range of employee benefits with that old cliche of something for everyone – ideally several things for everyone.
For some, benefits such as a Workplace nursery scheme will be of huge value, helping them save a huge amount on quality childcare. Working parents might also appreciate health and dental insurance, they might utilise the Holiday Exchange Scheme whereby it is possible to buy an extra week’s holiday.
Lifestyle benefits would include the Dining Card – this encourages people to get out of the house and save money, typically 50% on meals out. This is an ongoing benefit that has the same appeal as the short-lived Read Out to Help Out scheme. Who doesn’t like quality food at half price?
Discounted gym membership is hugely popular and has far-reaching benefits.
It helps employees save money on gym membership, it also, of course, encourages people to get out of the house and get active.
However, it can also lead to socialising. The gym could become an impromptu meeting point where colleagues can chat and catch up. If many employees use the gym membership scheme, they are certain to randomly see each other at the gym, this can, to a small extent, help to recreate that missing office culture.
We should also mention the Employee Assistance Programme – this is a confidential, always available counselling and advice that can help employees with any issues. They might be suffering from depression, they might have financial, they may have feelings of anxiety or isolation.
At these difficult times, EAP is a service that will grow hugely in value. For employees it gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns in a confidential manner, it is also a benefit that clearly demonstrates that the employer is demonstrating pastoral care.
There will be other benefits to consider too – experts in workplace benefits can help you set up a compelling offer that also helps the company save money against its tax and NI contributions.
At Enjoy Benefits, we have great experience in helping companies of all sizes introduce benefits that are suitable for their workplace.
Benefits are easy to set up and ongoing administration is then run through a hub, this allowing employees to manage their own benefits while the employer can see which benefits are proving popular and what level of take-up each has had.
If you would like an obligation free chat to discuss which benefits might work for your business and your employees, please contact us by calling 0800 088 7315 or using our Contact Form.