Middle East employers are not offering Flexible Benefits programmes despite research showing that employees respond positively to such incentives, according to global human resource firm Mercer.

Flexible benefits programmes allow employees to pick and choose the benefits they want or need from packages offered by an employer.

The 2014 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Employee Choice and Benefits survey by Mercer found that 69 per cent of surveyed Middle East employers do not offer any benefits choice to their employees. The Middle East is lagging behind other regions where in Western Europe 53 per cent do offer such programmes.

“This survey shows that although what constitutes employee choice varies significantly by country, benefits flexibility seems to be gaining favour with employers and employees alike as both seek to obtain maximum value from the benefits package,” stated Stephen Clements, Employee Health & Benefits Leader for the Middle East at Mercer.

Overall, 76 per cent of employers surveyed reported a positive response to a flexible benefits programme, according to the same study.

“A more flexible benefits approach is all about better meeting the needs of their employees, and in so doing becoming an employer of choice with happier more motivated employees,” Mercer said in statement outlining the study results.

Employers said that the introduction of a flexible benefits programme had helped meet institutional goals with 72 per cent of companies reporting that their “employee choice programme has met organisation objectives”.

Some employers in the Middle East, 33 per cent of those surveyed, are going against the grain and are looking to introducing a flexible benefits programme in the next two years.

“The Middle East market conditions now appear to be right for the adoption of more flexible benefits; diverse workforce, a desire to differentiate and expand benefits offerings, and high benefits cost inflation. More and more companies in other regions are experiencing the virtues of offering employees a choice of benefits and seeing the potential long-term cost savings to the company,” stated Clements.

However, an overwhelming number of companies are clearly not interested — 67 per cent do not have plans to introduce flexible benefits programmes.

The survey took in responses from 636 employers across 17 counties. There were 54 (8.5 per cent) companies from the Middle East involved in the study. Saudi Arabia contributed 51 per cent of the Middle East companies. The UAE contributed 46 per cent.