Zest CEO Matt Russell: Record high sick days expose the need to shake up employee benefits

People are having a tough time as they face up to the ongoing cost of living crisis.

That’s no secret. But eyebrows were still raised at recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which revealed that working days lost to sickness have jumped to a record high.

The ONS found that around 185.6 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in 2022, almost 25% more than in 2021 and the highest since records began back in 1995. The organisation said that women and older workers were amongst those to report the highest rates of sickness absence.

People are tired. They have come through a world-changing pandemic and walked straight into rapidly spiralling prices that are playing havoc with their finances.

Against this backdrop, it’s never been more crucial for employers to consider how they can best help their employees through benefits, including tailored healthcare offerings and employee assistance programmes (EAP) that can boost their wellbeing and mental health.

Reimagining benefits with flexibility in mind

After all the upheaval witnessed in recent years, employees have had a rethink about what’s really important to them in their working life. Thanks largely to the fallout from Covid-19, the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred, and the ability to work more flexibly is now the new normal.

This has created new challenges which are eroding that much sought-after connection between colleagues. Less time together can prevent people from identifying as being part of a team, impacting morale and wellbeing. It also increases pressure on employers to meet the differing demands of different demographics, and their differing attitudes and expectations towards their job – especially amidst tough economic conditions.

So, for the modern employer – regardless of sector – understanding the specific needs of their employees has never been more important, but with more people working remotely and multiple generations currently occupying the workforce, it’s much harder to know if these needs are being appropriately met.

Benefits can provide the right solution at the right time, and play a big role in meeting these evolving employee demands, as well as attracting and retaining talent. But far too often they are locked behind a dated, slow, and unintuitive user experience.

In much the same way that the world of work has become more flexible, so must the way in which forward-thinking employers provide both their benefits package, and the platform that delivers it. The good news is that there are new, innovative, and modular solutions in today’s market.

By incorporating a smarter benefits platform that is flexible and intuitive, employers can greatly enhance engagement, foster loyalty and retain talent. The right platform can make employees feel valued and foster a feeling of belonging in a digital-first hybrid world.

Adopting a more data-driven approach

Data is one area that employers should pay particularly close attention to.

It’s critical for businesses to properly leverage the abundance of data and analytical tools now available to better understand their employees, and how they are making use of their benefits package. But far too often, this data is patchy or incomplete, with standard benefits platforms unable to track take-up or provide breakdowns by team, age, gender, and other factors.

Best-in-class data tools, however, do have that ability to segment by group, meaning that employers are more informed, and can better communicate with their employees based on their specific requirements. This can promote the take-up of relevant benefits, and ensure that well-meaning employers are actually servicing the individual needs of their employees.

Whether it’s someone looking for the right EAP to support their mental health, a new employee looking for a cycle to work scheme, or a worker approaching retirement and considering how they will draw on their pension, being able to tailor communications and gain real insight into their use of benefits is vital to ensuring an inclusive working environment in the digital age.

At Zest, we are providing Britain’s businesses with a customisable online platform that drives employee engagement and take-up, working seamlessly with both existing and new benefits packages, with no need to change benefits providers, or compromise on the user experience.  We’re helping them to implement a more suitable benefits service at pace; one that truly meets employee needs.

We believe that a bespoke benefits offering – that is easily accessible digitally through consumer-grade technology – boosts employee engagement, promotes loyalty, and will help to bring those sick days down.

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