Soft benefits: a weapon in the war for talent

Employers
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With the number of Britons in the workforce at its highest level since the 1970s, the competition for great talent only continues to heat up. No longer can companies rely on a competitive salary; these days, workforce expectations have shifted to include discussions about unlimited holiday allowances, enhanced maternity and paternity leave, flexible working, discount schemes and free lunches on Fridays, just to name a few. These non-traditional perks, otherwise called soft benefits, encompass any workplace benefits other than a salary (inclusive of base, bonuses and commissions) and statutory pensions, paid holidays and sick pay. Both financial and non-financial benefits are often intangible, but they can make a huge difference to a company’s ability to attract and retain talent, particularly when they affect the culture of a company, make an employee’s everyday life easier or incentivise performance.

This idea is by no means new; juggernauts such as Google have been pioneering the idea for years, while a quick Google search of ‘companies with best benefits’ reveals list upon list from the likes of Forbes, Fast Company and The Independent. However, they have been thrust into the spotlight over the last 12 months as highly skilled talent becomes harder to come by and employers start to lose employees to competitors’ offers.

“The right kind of benefit can help increase employee satisfaction and engagement and can be a top consideration for candidates when deciding whether to work for you or one of your competitors,” says Debra Corey, Group Reward Director at Reward Gateway and co-author of Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement.

“However, benefits programmes are not — and should never be — a one-size-fits-all approach,” she continues.

Embracing flexibility

It’s this approach that informs Hyde Housing’s benefits strategy.

“We’ve got quite a large suite of benefits and the reason is we want to give people the choice – if they’ve got a partner or family, they may want to look at some of the insurance benefits, or some of the younger generation might be looking more at the lifestyle benefits, like discounted gym or buying more holiday,” says Laurie Davis, Reward Specialist at Hyde.

“We’ve found with the flexible benefits, our employees can choose what works for them and they can change it as their lifestyles change.”

The housing association has 1100 staff across 15 main offices, spread around London, the south-east of England and Peterborough. With such a diverse workforce, choosing which benefits to offer requires an ongoing dialogue with staff: “When we first launched, we ran roadshows to gauge which benefits employees would want and find beneficial,” says Laurie.

“We ask a specific question in our staff surveys as to how satisfied people are with their benefits, so we make sure we’re monitoring that and it stays at a high level.”

Making the right call

When choosing which benefits to offer, Debra advises checking they align with your business strategy, meet your HR objectives and reflect the workplace culture you’re trying to maintain.

“Part of getting it right is getting what I’d call the ‘right fit’ for your company and your employees.” she explains.

“My suggestion is to challenge yourself and your leadership team to develop benefit objectives or principles that align with all aspects of your business as well as your company values.”

“Introduce benefits and perks that work alongside existing programmes, reflect what makes your organisation and your people special and are available to your entire workforce, from the CEO to the people who clean your office space.”

However, the process doesn’t end once you’ve finalised your offering: “Your new benefits may be amazing, but no one will use them if they don’t know about them. So get out there and make sure you’re communicating with your workforce, making sure they understand, appreciate and engage with them,” explains Debra.

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Getting the word out

Laurie believes Hyde Housing’s high engagement with their offering is due to the effort they put into communications.

“We make sure that our benefits are communicated on our careers website, as well as being mentioned in our induction for new starters and included with the contract pack. We do quite a lot of communications in the window that employees can choose their benefits, including email reminders and Intranet notifications,” explains Laurie.

“Leading up to the window, we’ll have staff emails going out, giveaways, desk drops, change the desktops on everyone’s screens and promote it through our Intranet. Once the window is open, we’ll do letters home and the reward team goes around to every office and does drop-in sessions,” she continues.

They also make sure that engagement is monitored on their platform: “We measure staff engagement with the site and we can see increases – more people logging in, more people selecting their benefits,” Laurie says.

Debra agrees, noting that it’s essential you are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of each benefit:

“It’s important to continually monitor how your benefits are performing individually and collectively. Are you offering the right balance, are you ultimately achieving your objectives?”

“One way to track your progress is with a KPI (key performance indicator) report. So, for example, if you are measuring the effectiveness of your discounts platform, KPIs may be participation (how many employees have registered for the benefit) and utilisation (how much have employees saved through the discount platform).  These will help you determine if/how this benefit fits into your overall benefits package as well as how it’s met your objectives,” she continues.

“The end goal is to make sure we don’t have ‘empty benefits’ that are only taking up space.”

Author Rebecca Siciliano Tiger Recruitment Team

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