Chris Bruce, Co-Founder, Darwin, explains how HR leaders can get boardroom buy in for HR investment

The economic ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on businesses of all shapes and sizes in nearly every industry. When the virus emerged last year, many organisations froze or slashed budgets across departments to remain operational.

Now, with some glimpses of a return to normality on the horizon, it’ll be up to teams to demonstrate their business value to executive decision-makers if they’re to unlock further investment as we settle into new ways of working.

Typically, HR teams have struggled to get a seat at the table when it comes to board-level decision making, which has provided a barrier to securing the resources they need to accelerate their digital transformation and deliver an enhanced experience for employees. In fact, global HR leaders named a lack of boardroom buy-in as their biggest barrier to achieving greater tech investment, in 2020.

But one silver lining from the disruption of the last 12 months is boosted recognition of the HR function and its importance. This presents a timely opportunity for teams to build on this momentum and ensure their benefits strategies – and the tools they invest in to deliver these – offer real, demonstrable return-on-investment (ROI).

Leaving legacy processes behind

With remote and hybrid working patterns gathering pace, we’re likely to see fewer employees than ever in the office full-time. This has implications on workplace processes, including benefits enrolment and administration, as lengthy, paper-based systems are simply no longer fit for purpose.

And it’s not just office workers ringing the changes. Benefits access has been a continued sticking point for employees across industries and sectors. This has been even more difficult for employees on the shop floor or in the field, who do not have constant access to a work device or HR department.

For several years, online benefits platforms have been the only tenable way to provide employees continuous access to their benefits. Moving into the new world of work, such systems will become even more crucial.

HRs also stand to benefit hugely from tech adoption. Over 55% of HR teams spend 11 hours or more every month manually transferring data to and from providers and HR systems, with many still relying on Excel as their main data management system. Moving to a dedicated, centralised benefits system would radically reduce the time spent on such tasks, enabling teams to focus on strategic work that adds more value to the business and boosts the benefits experience.

Getting to grips with analytics

Data analytics is, without a doubt, huge for HR teams. Those who have already adopted the technology as part of their benefits strategy are at a significant advantage, as they’re able to monitor benefits take-up and adapt their offerings in real-time.

It also equips teams with insight into benefits spend, enabling them to alter their strategy to address peaks and troughs in this. They may see that health insurance claims for musculoskeletal issues are on the rise in the UK, for example. To combat this, they may want to offer access to an occupational therapist, or if this is already a facet of an existing employee assistance programme, improve communications around this.

All this enables HR teams to track the effectiveness of their benefits strategies using agreed metrics, feed this back to their boards, and better make the case for further investment.

Optimising the employee benefits experience

Ultimately, digitalising benefits systems and harnessing data analytics will lead to a better benefits experience for employees, with a higher degree of personalisation.

HRs can gain a rich picture of benefits engagement, and draw on this to develop strategies to support employees when, where and how they want. Teams can also apply a data-led approach to communications to ensure individuals only receive information on the benefits relevant to them, in a format they’re likely to engage with, and at a time that suits them.

While benefits data can help teams create more targeted schemes, we’re also seeing employers transition to an expense pot model, which offers the ultimate in personalisation. Within this, employees spend an allowance against specific areas. For example, they may use a wellbeing allowance to purchase running trainers, or something like art classes to aid their personal development and mental wellbeing. This enables organisations to channel benefits spend into strategic areas, such as wellbeing, while ensuring benefits are relevant to all employees.

Overall, a better benefits experience will drive benefits engagement, meaning employees have a better idea of the full breadth of company support available to them, boosting their loyalty.

Maintaining momentum

HR teams have never been in a more influential position. They have the attention and the ear of the board. But to take full advantage of the opportunities this presents, they must act swiftly and shed themselves of sluggish and obstructive legacy processes.

Creating a better employee experience whilst demonstrating its impact and ROI at the executive level requires getting to grips with the latest in technology developments. This will allow teams to definitively show how properly investing in HR tech can give organisations more bang for their buck on benefits spend. This, in turn, will put them in a strong position to make the case for continued investment in the future.

Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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