Research released by Thomsons Online Benefits reveals that global benefits professionals are grappling with an expanded role, as business leaders increasingly call on the function to shape and support talent strategy. Four in five (82%) global benefits professionals now cite attracting and retaining talent as their top benefits objective, a significant increase on last year’s figure of 65%.


The latest Global Employee Benefits Watch, which surveys 497 benefits professionals responsible for 4,009,500 employees globally, comes at a time of employment market strength, when employers are struggling to attract and retain skilled people without resorting to salary hikes.[1] Against this backdrop, business leaders are placing greater scrutiny on benefits spend, looking to ensure this substantial investment (often second only to salary) is generating real return.


“Business leaders are waking up to the potential of benefits as a key enabler of people and business strategy,” comments Chris Bruce, MD & founder, Thomsons Online benefits. “Employees today don’t want to be just another number; they want to feel listened to, understood and cared for by their employer. Delivering a personalised benefits scheme, which is able to accommodate an individual’s interests and life goals, is instrumental in achieving this, helping to ensure they remain at the organisation and have the support they need to work at their best.”


As a result, benefits professionals are reaching a tipping point – they are being asked to take on an increasingly strategic role but are struggling to carve out the necessary time for this due to the operational burden of benefits administration and compliance.


To meet the multiple demands on their time benefits professionals are turning to technology. Over 66% of global employers have now adopted HCM systems to some extent and over 70% have adopted benefits management software. However, they’re also struggling to take a globally consistent approach, with only 10% of employers implementing HCM software and 4% implementing benefits management software in all locations.


“At present benefits professionals are too focused on the operational elements of their role to really unleash the potential of benefits analytics to provide the truly tailored schemes desired by today’s employees” comments Chris Bruce. “Data and analytics are imperative in providing employers with an objective and empirical view of how employees are engaging with their benefits schemes, enabling them to identify specific market needs such as a demand for water filtration systems in India or vitamin supplements in Japan.”


Having a complete data view of global employees is also essential to be able to deliver personalised benefits communications. At present just 7% communicate with employees on life changes such as marriage or the birth of a child, meaning that most global employers are missing out on the opportunity to be there for employees at the moments that matter.


Their ability to do this is also being hampered by their reticence to provide mobile access to benefits, at a time when mobile devices dominate the total minutes consumers spend online[2]. Just over a third of global employers offer employees access to their scheme from their mobile device in one or more locations. This is despite mobile access being associated with improved employee engagement. Over a third of those organisations who have implemented mobile access in all countries receive employee engagement scores above 80% as opposed to just over a fifth of organisations that have implemented mobile access in just some countries.


“Benefits professionals are reaching a tipping point,” comments Chris Bruce. “Evolutions in technology are affording benefits teams unprecedented insight into their workforce and the means to create and deliver schemes with a real strategic impact. The question now is how quickly benefits teams will embrace data analytics to grasp this opportunity and really prove the value of benefits at the boardroom table.”