Almost every benefit now has an online presence through hubs and portals. Kimberley Dondo examines the benefit to employer and employee of accessing healthcare, pensions, voluntary benefits, flexible benefits and other perks online

Bangkok city

We live in a fast-paced and technological age, with access to almost everything you can think of on our smartphones. So, it comes as no surprise that benefits portals, from flexible benefits to financial education and healthcare, have also gone digital, in the hope that employees will easily engage with them.

Stephen Greenstreet, managing director for proposition development at Punter Southall Aspire, says: “Employee benefits appear in many forms but with one primary objective, which is to meet the needs of a business and their employees.”

He believes that, in turn, technology is an enabler to help achieve greater efficiencies and cost savings, as well as employee engagement and fulfilment.

“Employers are increasingly moving access to benefits online and whether it’s on a portal or hub, five benefits or 25, with or without a Total Reward Statement (TRS) this form of technology empowers employees to choose the benefits that most appeal to them,” Greenstreet adds. “No matter the type of benefit – including healthcare, pensions, investments, risk benefits, voluntary benefits and flexible benefits – employees value the ability to easily access and manage them all from one place.”

From an employer’s perspective, the portal or hub can be configured to deal with eligibility criteria regarding benefits access, funded benefits, voluntary options and probation periods. The systems can also trigger emails to deliver effective communications including, for example, to inform employees when they are eligible for certain benefits.

This enables employers to truly maximise the value of the benefits they provide, increasing employee appreciation of and engagement with benefits, while also streamlining administration and helping to control costs and risk management.

Although many employers have begun to adopt the use of portals and hubs that are easily accessible online and as apps, there are still a considerable number that are using the intranet ‘portal’ method, which many would argue stopped being relevant years ago. Matt Norbury, CEO of epoints Employee, part of IAT, argues that vendors are failing to focus on personalisation and need to recognise that each employee is different and has different needs.

He says: “Employees are consumers too and as such expect their experience on mobile to be performant, engaging and content rich. We spend most of our time on mobile devices that are so much more than phones, and for us, native apps, a mobile-optimised website and a traditional desktop experience are fundamental parts of an employee reward programme. For example, our app is used on average 22 times a month for a total of 60 minutes as a result of great content, personalisation and gamifying the experience to make it fun.”

The added advantage of digital benefits platforms are available 24/7 to all users. With Edenred’s platform, employees are able to use it via single sign-on from their intranet, allowing them to access all benefits and rewards directly. They currently use SAML 2.0 to facilitate this. In addition, they provide employees with a username and password which will allow them to access the platform remotely via their own personal PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device anytime, anywhere. Sinead O’Gorman, head of product management and innovation at Edenred, asserts: “Our philosophy is that by having all benefit and rewards information in one place, it not only provides a simplified user journey, but will also encourage repeated use of the website, enhancing employees’ awareness and appreciation of their benefits package.”

SETTING UP DIGITAL PLATFORMS

When employers are developing their online presence in the form of a hub or app it is important that it is simple and interactive enough for employees to use, especially for those who may be technologically challenged. Graham Meinke, head of product management at Staffcare, explains: “Historically it had been difficult, time-consuming and costly to set up a benefit platform that accurately reflected the complex rules in many employers’ benefit schemes. But the next generation of employee benefits technology is set to make it far simpler to set up. Many employee benefit consultants include technology as part of their wider benefits offering. Technology-only solutions are also available for those companies with existing benefit schemes looking to improve engagement and reduce administration. Your platform should be as easy as possible to access and your employees need to see the value in using it. Most benefit technology has built-in functionality that allows you to easily tailor communications with personalised content and schedule them to be sent automatically at an appropriate time or based off event triggers.”

Tim Perkins, director at Nudge, advises employers on what steps they should take to set up an app or platform saying: “In this day and age, for a platform to be credible it needs to be accessible across the many different types of device that exist – phone, tablet, PC etc. There are two ways this can be achieved – one is a ‘native app’ for each different device. The other is the use of responsive design ‘web app’ which adjusts the user experience to the specific device being used. Single Sign On (SSO) is also a must and whatever anyone tells you, isn’t usually complicated or expensive.”

Businesses should also consider their objectives, security, data handling and processing, content management and lead time needs.

COMMUNICATING THE USE OF PORTALS

Communication is a pivotal part of any rewards platform. Regardless of what benefits package an employer may provide, without good communication, they will never see a return on investment (ROI). Phil Blows, sales director at Wealth Wizards, delves further into this as he says: “Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to getting employees engaged. Depending on an organisation, there may be challenges around the methods that you can use to contact people. For example, many of the head office retailers that we speak with do not have the personal email address of all of their shop floor staff. This could mean they are limited to communicating with their employees during workplace hours, or offline.”

“We have found communications that are tailored and relevant to the individual, provide the best results. Communication strategies can go stale extremely quickly so creating regular and relevant touch points are essential when trying to keep a workforce engaged.”

These types of platform require a level of investment, but when effectively implemented they create real ROI. Communication around these platforms needs to be consistent and effective; it is important to place real emphasis behind the marketing and communication of the benefits.

Nudge has also laid out the best practice in terms of how to best communicate portals to employees, the most effective campaigns use the three Ps.

Positioned: Generally, communication should come from the most senior person possible with communication positioning the portal or initiative in the context of the wider business, people and reward strategy.

Personalised: When it comes to engaging with a new portal, some people will want to be self-sufficient while others will want their hand-held. All options need to be offered and facilitated.

Private: Line one, paragraph one, page one should emphasise the privacy and confidentiality of the service. All too often, these statements are hidden in the FAQs but they need to be front and centre.

It is easy to see why from an employee’s perspective a digital platform would be useful as it provides visibility, accessibility, and control. But what can employers get out of digital platforms? The most obvious benefit would be the higher level of awareness and engagement as well as it being a cost-effective communication mechanism. A digital platform can also provide a robust audit trail when it comes to legislative communications such as automatic enrolment communication.

In the case of benefits that are more sensitive such as healthcare related benefits, apps and portals can be a great way to provide confidentiality which will, in turn, drive engagement and appreciation from employees, as Dr Bippon Vinayak, director at Square Health has found.

“We’ve noticed a lot more engagement since our healthcare app went live in April so technology really does help take-up and use of health benefits,” he says. “We launched an app earlier this year with insurer British Friendly to give easy access to healthcare: virtual GP consultations, physiotherapy, counselling and second opinion services. Embracing technology like apps is especially useful for employees because it makes important health services easier to access than ever.”

“The technology also means people can engage regularly with their policy and see value during their everyday life rather than only when they claim. So it means that, as part of an employee benefit, it’s going to be giving value regularly. It also helps users to better monitor their health, so any employee using it is hopefully more likely to remain healthy.”

It is also possible to programme more information than ever into these portals like the DELOS (Decision and Logic) AI platform that WPA and Tällt have developed. The platform is embedded with all their knowledge of conditions, symptoms, diagnostic and treatment choices across more than 100 different treatment plans. The autonomous operating system uses machine learning and nascent artificial intelligence to manage the complex decisions that customer support officers make every day. The medical knowledge at the heart of DELOS improves with each interaction and evolves with this knowledge.

Employers can also monitor the use and successes of their digital platforms by accessing the HR dashboard, where they can manage their employees, staff groups, employee benefits and monitor frequency of visits to the website or app through an analytics tool. In addition, employers

also, have the ability to write customised messages to their employees and create marketing material to promote the website to their workforce.

MEASURING SUCCESS

Firstly a notable change in behaviour will measure the success of a portal. This is particularly easy to measure with digital platforms, as managers can use analytics from the platforms to see how frequently the platform is used as well as what benefits are most popular among certain demographics within their workforce. For some employers, it might be boosting saving, for others, reducing debt or driving flex engagement. The key is to identify the objectives upfront and capture before and after impact. Other measures can be evaluated in employee satisfaction surveys, employee feedback forums, and performance levels improvements year over year.

Ian Bird, founder and director of business development at Mybenefitsatwork, comments: “The proof should be in the pudding and how successful the take-up has been.”

Topics