Employee benefits today go far beyond life insurance and performance-related bonuses. Companies are looking for more innovative ways to keep their employees happy, healthy and engaged.
Company reputation, career prospects and salary are all essential considerations when an individual chooses where to work. But employees are increasingly coming to expect more. Over a third of people look at the additional benefits on offer when they consider accepting a new job. Benefits can make employees feel valued, work harder, be more loyal and be more creative.
What are workplace benefits?
Everything that an employee receives above and beyond their salary and statutory requirements is a “benefit”.
Common benefits include private medical insurance, additional holiday entitlement and discounted financial products. These are offered as “perks” and are often offered simply to make one employer more attractive than another. In the UK, where workplace pensions must now be offered by law, companies sometimes compete by offering bigger contributions or different options.
Other forms of employee benefit are designed to incentivize productivity: for example, bonuses related to individual performance and discounts on company shares. However, these are often difficult to apply to non-sales departments, while competitiveness between teams or employees can create an unpleasant atmosphere.
Although traditional benefits remain important, there are increasingly creative and innovative ways for companies to reward their employees. As well as simple rewards like shopping vouchers and discounts, many benefits are designed to make employees’ lives easier, healthier and more enjoyable.
Employee benefits for physical health
Studies have shown that healthy employees perform better and are less likely to be absent, so perks which improve employee health are a win-win for companies.
Corporate gym memberships and cycle-to-work schemes are not new, but their success is limited as it relies on the individuals wanting to exercise in these ways and actually finding the time and effort to do so. Cycle to work schemes are additionally restricted to those employees who live within a certain radius. These schemes can therefore be expensive, unwanted and ineffective.
A more modern take is to issue fitness trackers to staff and gamify the process. Weekly or daily challenges can be tailored for different teams or purposes and make it fun to get healthy.
Few people go to the doctor as often as they should, with surgery opening times being a key complaint. On-site health screenings can alert employees to issues like high blood pressure, repetitive strain injury and stress, as well as identifying major or chronic conditions. Companies can also provide support for individuals who wish to make lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, losing weight or eating more healthily.
Benefits for mental and emotional health
Mental and emotional health is more complex to tackle, but no less important. The US loses about 0.5% of its GDP to depression alone. Employers are now looking to help their workforce improve its “emotional resilience”, that is, the ability to manage stress and bounce back after tough times.
While bigger companies can afford on-site counselling and meditation, smaller companies are investigating mindfulness training and shared experiences. The phrase “team building” may evoke negative feelings for many, but when done well it can improve cohesiveness, communication and morale. It’s often not possible to find a single activity which suits the capabilities and interests of everyone on the team, so companies may offer to contribute toward employee-organized activities instead.
Examples of innovative employee benefits
Finding benefits which appeal to a workforce can require some creative thinking.
Some companies offer loans to cover the upfront cost of travel season tickets. Paying annually can save as much as 20% over paying in smaller increments. Companies like PwC and Penguin are offering employees help with repaying student loans.
Perks may tie in naturally with the company’s brand. For example, the Body Shop allows employees 5 days a year to take part in charitable work, while Airbnb offers employees money to travel.
Flexibility empowers employees
Happy employees are more productive, and feeling in control is an important part of that. Unwanted or irrelevant perks will provide no value to either party and may even cause ill-will.
Letting employees choose their own perks can also reduce unnecessary expenditure: not everyone is interested in gym memberships or childcare vouchers. Extra holiday is a generous gesture, but it essentially forces staff to take more time off, often at year end when workloads are heavy.
Benefits management companies like Benefex and Zest provide platforms through which employees and employers can manage a wide range of perks. They are cost- and time-efficient for employers, while the range of options ensures that all employees are able to find something that they actually want.
Using these online portals, employees are able to choose how to allocate their “benefits budget”. For example, employees with families may allocate money to childcare vouchers or critical illness cover, while younger members of staff might prefer shopping vouchers or travel insurance. They can also provide negotiated discounts on a wide range of products and services, from financial advice to shopping to holidays.
Appreciating the benefits
It’s easy for employees to become complacent or to underestimate the value of the perks on offer. Providing a statement of the benefits received, with either the cost to the company or the market value of similar services, helps employees quantify exactly what they are getting. Explaining any rewards they will be eligible for in the future provides an incentive to remain at that company for a longer time.
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