Continuing the disconnect between HR and employees from two years ago, a new research titled 2016 Benefits Under the Lens Survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits, pointed out that HR is still out of touch with employees' perception on benefits

Compiling responses from 654 organisations across 12 countries across Asia including Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, the survey found that despite 65% of employers in Asia felt that benefits supported business goals, only 12% of employees said they appreciate benefits.

Zooming in on the specific markets, 63% of employers in Malaysia said benefits supported business goals, but only 13% said employees appreciate benefits. Across the straits in Singapore, 59% of employers said benefits supported business goals, but only 12% said employees appreciate benefits.

Over in Hong Kong, 57% of employers said benefits supported business goals, but only 7% said employees appreciate benefits.

The survey pointed out that 61% of employers in Asia (72% in Malaysia, 64% in Singapore and 55% in Hong Kong) stated benefits are very important and receive full management support as part of total rewards strategy, further revealing that benefits can help increase employee satisfaction and appreciation, help with talent attraction and retention, and creates value under a total rewards strategy.

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However, it noted that employers faced three major internal challenges that prevent them from administering their employee benefits effectively - 89% of HR departments across the region were found to plan their benefits programmes without a defined strategy or road map, that number increased to 91% in Malaysia, while decreasing to 88% in Singapore and 87% in Hong Kong.

At the same time, 70% of HR teams in Asia faced difficulty defining benefits strategy that resonates with employees - increasing to 91% in Malaysia, 89% in Singapore, and 72% in Hong Kong. To make things worse, 70% of HR teams in the region revealed that they had limited decision making power.

The survey also uncovered that in order to stand out in the highly competitive talent market in Asia, 96% of respondents believed that differentiation is vital to a successful benefits programme. Yet, a majority (77%) of employers define "differentiation" as offering comprehensive benefits packages.

As a result, 82% of HR departments across Asia - 91% in Malaysia, 92% in Singapore, and 84% in Hong Kong - admitted to relying on market benchmarking data to design their benefits programmes.

Benchmarking, the most common approach, provides employers with an understanding of the competitive landscape and market trends, however, the report pointed out that it gives insights into their competitors' demographic and workforce needs, but not their own - and, it doesn't differentiate an employer's benefits offering.

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A clear employee benefits value proposition is at the core of differentiation. While 70% of respondents across Asia claimed to brand their benefits, a deeper dive uncovered some misunderstanding around the concept of branding.

More than a quarter (27%) of respondents considered "consistently rolling out benefits locally" as branding, and 16% said that "global positioning applied regionally" represents branding. While such practices are good for ensuring a common organisation-wide objective and executing within a global governance framework, neither of them are branding, the report highlighted.

Most HR professionals would agree that one of the keys to successful programmes implementation is communication.

Differentiation, branding and communication are closely linked - and having compelling benefits with a good branding based on organisational culture is not enough if employees are not aware of it, the report stated.

However, the survey revealed that 53% of employers in Asia communicate their benefits programmes to employees only once a year, during renewal time, with almost 20% not communicating it at all.

In Malaysia, more than half (52%) of employers were found to communicate their benefits programmes to employees only once a year or not at all, while the number decreased to 47% in Singapore and 38% in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, 37% of employers note their workforce is aging yet communication of benefits is not tailored or targeted to changing workforce needs.

On the bright side, 60% of those surveyed do have an benefits value proposition that is communicated to employees and among those who do, more than half (57%) believed that effective marketing and branding has helped improve perceptions of the company internally and about a third (31%) believed that perceptions have improved externally.

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