A free lunch? Unlimited holidays? Pet-friendly provisions? We review some interesting employee benefits programmes and consider how they might work for you.
What Employee Benefits Should You Offer?
High staff turnover hurts. It can damage morale, batter your ego and hamper competitiveness. To reduce the issue to pure economics - the bottom line is, it hurts your bottom line. Quite apart from the cost of recruiting new talent, workplace disruption and interrupted productivity, departing employees can walk out the door with a wealth of business knowledge - straight into the welcoming embrace of your nearest rival.
Of course, there is no magic bullet for resolving staffing woes, and only a holistic appraisal of your business will drill down the root cause. Poor employee engagement may be symptomatic of a deeper malaise - staff tend to look for stability with clear opportunities for career advancement, so it follows that chaotic, inefficient organizations will struggle to retain workers.
One important area that demands attention is employee benefits.
In this era, the old adage that 'a happy workforce is a productive workforce' sounds a little glib and simplistic, but if your idea of staff perks stretches to keeping the biscuit tin full, or David Brent-style organized fun, it’s time to think again.
The fact is, you’re competing with your rivals for the top 10% of skilled workers, and modern employees - particularly millennials - can be just as demanding of you as you are of them.
What are employee benefits?
Employee benefits are non-salary perks and indirect, non-cash payments given to staff in addition to their wage. The idea is to create a competitive package for potential employees and - at a more basic level - simply create a pleasant and engaging work environment. Offering good benefits can make it easier to recruit and retain staff, while also making you look good from a PR point of view.
Benefits can range from free or subsidized meals to use of the company private jet, but bear in mind they don’t come cheap and once you’ve put them on the table, it can be hard to take them away in tough times.
Also, remember that what matters to you may not necessarily motivate your staff in the same way. As with all areas of your organization, communicating with your workforce is the key to developing the right package. And despite all your efforts, there is no escaping the fact that, for employees, good old hard cash is often still king.
Traditional tools for employee engagement
Traditional perks usually focus on health, life insurance and retirement plans. Considered objectively (and in pure monetary terms), they can represent huge value. They make life more affordable for your employees, and absolve them of the tedium of arranging their own health and retirement schemes. Delivered smartly - linking a retirement package to a profit-sharing plan, for example - they can also provide a real-time incentive to deliver.
The downside is that they can be perceived as a little boring, particularly to younger prospective employees. The fast pace of modern life means we are accustomed to instant gratification, and the last thing on the mind of your average hip, young go-getter is how they’re going to fund their post-retirement golf addiction.
In the modern employment marketplace, these vanilla offerings alone won’t cut it. A study commissioned by Barclays revealed that 12% of ‘Generation Y’ employees (born between 1981-1995) were so unhappy with their current benefits package they had considered moving to another organization. And in any case, the dynamic, forward-thinking image you want your business to portray begins at home. A modern benefits package that keeps an eye on the future will inspire employees to stay on.
Companies like Google and Facebook have blazed the trail for providing modern perks, to the point where their workplaces are almost perceived as bean-bag scattered playgrounds for grown-ups.
In general, modern perks tend to deliver in the moment, rather than in - say - twenty years’ time. However, most importantly, they keep pace with the make-up and expectations of the modern workforce, which tends to demand more flexibility in, and control over, its working life.
Health insurance, for example, is a blessing when things go wrong but a more modern outlook helps employees prevent them going wrong in the first place, by promoting a healthy lifestyle and mental wellbeing.
This might begin in the staff cafeteria with free or subsidized healthy meals and snacks, follow through with gym membership and stretch to improving the work-life balance with more holiday time, flexible working hours, job sharing or working from home opportunities. Netflix has taken things to the next level by offering employees unlimited holidays; instead of tracking how long they spend in the office, they examine what really matters - how much they get done.
Other benefits can help save employees money by providing or contributing to the cost of childcare, offering family holidays or free travel.
The little things
Not all employee perks have to cost the earth, and even SMEs without the resources for bells and whistles benefits packages can go the extra mile to attract and retain staff.
You might consider an office redesign to reinvigorate the workplace and - by proxy - your employees. Staff with hectic schedules might like a helping hand with everyday but time-consuming things like food shopping, booking holidays or entertainment and dry cleaning - all of which can help save your company money if key staff are not busy organizing their lives on your time.
Something as simple as allowing staff to bring their pet dogs to work can mean a boost for productivity and a reduction in work-related stress.
As an HR manager, the effect you have on the lives of your employees can be immensely rewarding. But your efforts will count for nothing if they simply don’t value what you’re offering them, or if your benefits aren’t communicated in a way that everyone understands, and sadly only 7% of employers interact with staff about benefits on a monthly basis.
In the modern workplace, with as many as five generations working side by side, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works, and it’s important to engage actively with staff to decipher their needs and desires, and how best to address them. Ultimately, successful benefit schemes identify the point where the goals of the company and staff converge.