Mixed menu of rewards will satisfy staff

There are a number of tempting options to reward and engage staff, as Nick Martindale discovers

An employee’s pay cheque is their bread and butter. But, as the saying goes, man – or indeed woman – cannot live on bread alone. In order to engage and motivate their workforce, companies need to dish up a more rounded diet of rewards – and providing benefits is a great way to do this.

The biggest benefit most employers offer is likely to be the company pension and employers need to make sure their staff understand what they are getting, says Lee Hollingworth, partner and head of DC [defined contribution pension] consulting at Hymans Robertson. “Many employers offer to match the contributions employees put into their pensions, so employees are effectively getting a pay rise if they contribute,” he points out.

Auto-enrolment can be a good opportunity to help those who have previously overlooked the company pension to think again, with the potential for employers to benefit from a greater sense of appreciation from staff. Technology firm Fujitsu UK & Ireland, for instance, ran a personalised communications campaign with employees who were not members, with several hundred signing up as a result.

Employers would also do well to consider insurance-related benefits, which can help protect both the employee and employer should they become ill or unable to work, says Derek Miles, managing director of consultants Aspira. He recommends a group life insurance policy, as well as income protection and critical illness cover. “People are far more likely to experience long-term absence from work due to illness or injury than they are to die during their working life,” he says.

One of the most valued benefits an employer can offer comes in the form of flexible working, allowing staff to influence their working hours and where they work. “This gives people a chance to address priorities such as care for children or elderly relatives in their own time,” says Willma Tucker, principal consultant at talent management firm Right Management. “This can help to take the pressure off balancing work with personal issues. Workers often feel more energised, motivated, engaged and in control of their day as a result, which can help to boost business productivity.”

The biggest benefit most employers offer is likely to be the company pension and employers need to make sure their staff understand what they are getting

It’s a policy that has paid dividends for Connect Assist, a specialist contact centre for the charity and public sectors. “With 46 per cent of our team joining us after a period of unemployment, we understand the difficulties of returning to work, so we offer flexibility to suit people’s lifestyles,” says chief executive Patrick Nash. “We also offer flexible working to help team members with enduring health conditions. As 20 per cent of our workforce have such conditions, working from home helps them complete the job to the same standard, without the difficulty of travelling to and from the workplace.”

Other options for employers include voluntary benefits, which tend to be paid for by the employees themselves but offered at a discounted rate, taking advantage of the provider’s buying power and, for some benefits, reductions through so-called salary sacrifice. Common options are childcare vouchers and cycle-to-work schemes, and the principle can also extend to purchasing additional holiday and even pension payments.

“With the example of childcare vouchers, in the current system the vouchers are taken from the employee’s salary before the usual tax and national insurance contributions are deducted, allowing a family of four to save up to £1,866 in childcare up to the age of 15,” says Iain McMath, managing director of Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services. “With the cost of childcare spiralling upwards, this can make a big difference to families struggling to cope with these rising costs.”

This can also apply to company cars, where employees can access vehicles at a much reduced price than they could were they to take out a leasing policy privately. According to Matt Dyer, commercial director at LeasePlan, if an employee opted for a Toyota Auris TGSPT 1.8H Excel, they could save up to £228 each month. “There are very real financial benefits to going down the salary sacrifice route,” he says.

Offering employees access to discounted products and services through a portal site can also make their take-home pay go further. “Savings on products, such as parking to go on holiday, a new tablet, a weekend break or a child’s out-of-school clubs, can reach up into hundreds of pounds a year,” says James Malia, managing director of P&MM Employee Benefits. “Others will be monthly users trying to simply keep down their cost of living.”

This kind of activity doesn’t need to be done through a formal arrangement. “You could simply wander up and down the high street in your local area and negotiate deals yourself,” says Charles Cotton, performance and reward director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “It doesn’t need to cost you anything.”

HEALTH BENEFITS

A SHOT IN THE ARM

Employers are increasingly coming to realise that keeping staff fit and healthy can have a demonstrable impact on both engagement and productivity.

Private medical insurance, in particular, is a valued benefit. “It can help people to get fast access to diagnosis and treatment if they need it, at a convenient time and location,” says Patrick Watt, corporate director at private healthcare provider Bupa. “The benefit may be extended to employees’ families or people may be given the option to pay for their family to be added to the scheme.”

There is also an increasing realisation of the dangers to health caused by stress and an employee assistance programme is one way of helping ensure staff are able to receive help in a confidential manner.

“Often this will be the first port of call for an employee, possibly referred by managers or HR,” says Martyn Anywl, head of health and productivity at Buck Consultants. Originally offered as a standalone option, this kind of service is increasingly found in other products, such as group income insurance, he says.

Ensuring staff have a working environment where they enjoy spending time can also have an impact on health and wellbeing. Serviced office company The Office Group offers staff and clients a variety of features, including fresh fruit, good coffee and yoga sessions, says founder Olly Olsen.

“But the surprise and delight element is key, so we add things like light boxes to combat seasonal affective disorder, cupcakes to make things generally better, and are sure to change our sweets and biscuits regularly,” he adds.