Benefits are more than a pay rise


“Education, education, education” were Tony Blair’s self-proclaimed priorities, a philosophy shared by Polycom. The videoconferencing hardware maker offers its 4,000 staff reimbursement for education outside the workplace. Anna Gamal in Polycom’s HR department says: “We have a further education policy for things such as postgraduate degrees. Study topics need to be related to your job in some way and can include languages. As a global company, it’s always beneficial to have multilingual staff. Through our tuition reimbursement programme we gain not only more skilled, but also happier employees.”


The dotcom era featured offices packed with teenagers’ toys like fussball and ping-pong. But some employees prefer to chill in a more low-key way. PR firm Peppermint Soda has a company allotment known as the Peppermint Patch. Staff grow vegetables, herbs and fruit, with a flowerbed to attract bees. When the harvest comes, staff reap the produce and lug it over to founder Suzy Glaskie’s house for a barbecue. Staff member Joanna Drake says: “It’s lovely to have some outdoor space, especially for those of us who don’t have our own gardens. In the summer the team often pop down during lunch breaks.”


How do you know what your staff want and think unless you ask? At Phones4u the HR team undertake an annual survey to find out. HR director Alex Faulkner says: “Our recent annual Your Voice employee survey enabled us to identify that our people value things such as flexible working hours and we have tailored our benefits to reflect this. Similarly, we launched Phones4u Extra last year, which offers thousands of discounts to our people on anything from theme park admissions to money off holidays and at high street stores, and it’s based on what we know they are interested in.”


Altrincham-based marketing firm RMS does team yoga. Director Dan Gledhill says: “I realised how yoga can help all our team, youngest to oldest, reduce stress, alleviate health complaints, and achieve suppleness of mind and body. It costs us £40 per week, regardless of how many staff attend. We do it weekly, straight after work in the office. We asked all staff to complete a questionnaire after participating to assess its impact. Staff were asked to tick statements they felt attributable to the yoga and 90 per cent said they were ‘profoundly more mentally and spiritually aware’.”


Marc Benioff founded San Francisco tech giant in 1999, now valued at around $38 billion on the New York Stock Exchange. From day one he weaved charitable works into the firm’s operations. Employees get six paid days off a year to work at good causes, technology is donated to good charities and huge grants are paid, totalling $53 million to date. The firm has assisted countless pro-bono campaigns, such as training 15 to 20 years olds to run a business. Mr Benioff is adamant this employee-driven philanthropy has been essential to his commercial success.


Does dishing out perks to employees willy-nilly seem a little too generous? Then how about implementing James Taylor’s rigorous approach. His firm SuperStars provides sports and tuition support to 400 schools. To reward high performers, he issues points based on weekly and monthly performance. Prizes include TVs and family weekend breaks. To avoid too much rivalry, there are unified company targets too. “We know it works because our attrition rate within the core team is virtually zero and we are growing at a rate of 40 per cent year on year,” he says.


Importing foreign cultural ideas into British firms can be tricky. And maybe none is more alien than the Japanese concept of company songs. At some Japanese firms, particularly in manufacturing, employees begin the working day with the company song. At the retailer Ito-Yokado the lyrics run: “Flap your wings, carry hope on your shoulders, hand in hand, Ito-Yokado people will make a rainbow across the world.” Shell and KMPG have recorded company songs, though they have been teased for doing so. But hey, Britain was confused by sushi once.


Road trip. At M&C Saatchi, staff go on an adventure once a month. Employee Jonny Stanton says: “Employees are paired, assigned a month, given a budget of around £500 and then have the responsibility and freedom to arrange a trip of their choice. This could be a life drawing class, a trip to the latest pop-up exhibition, David Hockney’s iPad art exhibition at the Royal Academy or a curry on Brick Lane. The aim of the Creative Field Trip is to simply do something that prompts ideas and creativity within the agency.”


Great coffee used to mean you’d ground the beans. Now coffee nerds scrutinise flat white viscosity and micro-foam formation. Mark Keepax, senior vice president at ASG Software Solutions, wanted to pamper his top workers. He says: “I embarked on a barista lesson and every week the top-performing salesperson will receive a day of coffee, personally created and delivered by me. This has actually improved office productivity by 10 to 15 per cent. There is nothing quite like watching your boss personally serve you a coffee direct to your desk to motivate your next sale.”


Sometimes it not one perk, it’s a plethora so diverse they seem like a way of life. Cirkle PR, which counts Mr Kipling, Aquafresh and Ribena as clients, has a “Good Mojo” philosophy. The package includes Birthday Roulette in which staff spin a roulette wheel on their birthday to win cash prizes and get the day off; a “random acts of kindness” programme, such as bacon-sandwich Mondays; hidden lottery tickets; or working from home on Fridays. Explains why PR Week included the company in its Best Places to Work shortlist in three of the past four years.