In an ideal world, everybody would simply get a pay rise. Unfortunately, not all companies have the financial resources to do just that. Salaries are often the largest expenditure and squeezing out one or two per cent more isn’t necessarily going to keep the workforce happy. The solution that most businesses use is a ‘benefits’ scheme, where they offer additional perks, like discounted train fare or dental plans. However, what employees want and what companies offer has changed dramatically in recent years and it can be used to increase the attractiveness of the latter. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, recently told investors during an earnings call that his company needed a better vision for how it creates value for employees. He said it was “a vision for their success.” Bezos wasn’t simply talking about ‘free’ stuff or making work more fun, he was suggesting that the firm find something of value to bring workers closer to their roles. A good benefits scheme is a way to help employers engage with their employees, but it can also foster a company culture that both attracts and retains individuals.
The secret to building better benefits lies in communication, according to Rebekah Tapping, group HR director for employee services platform The Personal Group. She suggests that a workforce shouldn’t be thought of as one demographic as their needs will not be uniform. “With the rise of less traditional employment contracts, workplace diversity and geographically dispersed workforces, attempting to meet these needs can often feel like an unachievable task,” Tapping explains. “Data-driven solutions using HR analytics, surveys and forums can help by providing HR departments with instant insights into what a workforce wants and uses, and when. HR analytics gathers collective data, allowing you to see which benefits are popular and why. “However, while data direct from your employees is always important to empathise with your workforce. Put yourself in their shoes and ask, ‘What would I want from my employer?’” Failing to engage with your workforce can be dangerous," Tapping adds Businesses that can’t find benefits and value that work across the board risk isolating individuals and creating a culture more like a clique. So, while paintball weekends and Fridays at the pub might attract the young and unattached, it might be a problem for employees with other, non-work related responsibilities. Startups often provide good examples of modern company culture, but they’re also responsible for stereotypes that are not helpful. Putting a ping pong table in the office, for instance, might have some benefits for relaxing on the job but its appeal might not reach beyond students and 20-somethings.
Perks of the job
Traditionally, some of the most sought after work benefits were for the commute. Season tickets for the train helped many of us get into cities like London for a 9-to-5 shift. Similarly, cycle schemes, where your employer stumped up the money for a new bike that you paid back in monthly instalments, were highly desirable in a job offer. However, many of us have almost forgotten what the commute was like after a year of working from home and quite a few want to keep it that way. Indeed, some 90% of British people want to continue working remotely after the pandemic, according to a report from Cardiff and Southampton Universities, released in August 2020. This has led a number of businesses to either offer remote working as a permanent option or include it in a ‘hybrid’ work strategy that mixes both in-office and remote work. A big appeal of remote work is that it can help employees find a more suitable balance between work and life. This has now become a greater priority than salary when looking for a new job, according to recruitment firm Randstad. The organisation surveyed 9,000 UK workers and found that 65% felt that a more desirable work-life balance was the most important factor when choosing a new employer - above both salary and job security. “In some respects, the profound changes in many people’s jobs has clearly brought the benefits of flexible working to the surface. Our data suggests there are two groups of workers who want to see a more balanced lifestyle here,” says Randstad’s UK CEO Victoria Short. "For many, remote working has increased the number of hours they are connected to their employers, reflecting the need for better lifestyle balance. At the same time, some have benefitted from working at home by being able to carry out tasks or juggle personal responsibilities around a more flexible work schedule." Additionally, good training came up as the fourth most desirable work benefit, with 58% of the respondents citing it as an important factor in job applications. Learning and developing new skills are, of course, linked to career progression, but they can also work in favour of the employer and boost morale.
On the subject of morale, the mass shift to remote work has also created a national feeling of isolation, which in turn has driven some important discussions about mental health into boardrooms. Employees are now more acutely aware of work-related stress and burnout. This has led to some companies offering meditation or relaxation benefits, such as apps or even virtual yoga classes, to give their employees mental support. The Headspace app, in particular, has proved very popular with employers. In October last year, the firm told CNN that it had seen a more than 500% increase in interest over the course of the pandemic. Benefits that help to focus staff or calm their anxieties - or even help them get a good night's sleep - have great appeal for job applicants. But, from an employer's perspective, employees that feel well also do well at work, according to Tapping. “The conversation on employee wellbeing has shifted from it being ‘nice-to-have’ to being an essential part of any employment offer,” she says. “As well as benefits to help staff maintain their health, like OnDemand GP and Employee Assistance Programmes, many employers now offer proactive wellbeing measures that place emphasis on exercise, sleep, healthy food and stress reduction. These can all have a significant impact on employee health and retention.”