In its latest benefits and allowances survey, XpertHR, the country’s leading online HR resource, reveals nine in 10 businesses (89%) offer counselling or an employee assistance programme as part of their reward strategy, making it the number one provided benefit amongst UK organisations.

Alongside counselling and employee assistance programmes, other leading benefits include life assurance, which is provided by 82% of businesses, childcare vouchers, and cycle-to-work schemes, which are offered by 70% of employers respectively.

The number of businesses that offer counselling has risen slightly since last year and is 14% higher than it was in 2019, which shows the way employers approach mental health has certainly been impacted by the pandemic. This is true for other benefits too, as more than one-third (38%) of employers reported to adapting their benefit and reward packages in response to the coronavirus crisis.

With the war for talent heating up and as the ‘Great Resignation’ looms large, it is pivotal employers respond to these changing needs and build benefit and reward schemes that meet employee demand. Many have recognised this already, as almost a fifth (18%) of HR professionals said that retaining and attracting new talent and remaining competitive is the strategic focus of their benefit packages.

A great way to do this is by putting the employee in the driving seat and letting them manage their own rewards by offering flexible benefits. However, offering a fully flexible benefits scheme is a mammoth task for any organisation and just 7% of employers do this. Instead, over a third of employers (37%) opt for providing selective initiatives on a flexible basis.

The benefits chosen to be made available on a flexible basis are dependent on employee demand. The most popular benefits to be offered flexibly are buying and selling annual leave (69%), cycle to work schemes (62%) and pension contributions (61%).

Sarah Byrne, HR practice editor at XpertHR, comments:

“Counselling and employee assistance programmes topping the benefit survey comes as no surprise following the pandemic and the spotlight it shone on not only mental health, but overall employee wellbeing. It’s great to see so many businesses recognise the needs of their employees and designing benefit packages around them.

“As the war for talent grows ever more competitive, benefits have become an important tool for attracting and retaining key employees. In the past salary has dominated applicant priorities, but today the reassurance they will be appreciated and well looked after is paramount to employees.”