Everyone benefits: Ethical employee perks

Increasingly socially-conscious employees appreciate perks with an ethical impact

HR forums are awash with talk of how a growing base of employees – in particular younger people – value working for an organisation that has a strong sense of purpose and ethics, and how employers must pay heed to this if they hope to attract and retain top talent.

Yet the desire among employees to give back to society is no new thing, says Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte.

“People have always wanted to give something back,” she says. “It comes down to the fact that we are lucky enough to have jobs that are very rewarding. And at the same time part of something being rewarding is knowing that it gives back to someone else.”

What is new though is extending a firm’s ethical and CSR agenda to encompass the benefits it provides to employees. For example, Codd hired ethical gift company From Babies with Love to keep in touch with staff going on parental leave, in a way that would leave them feeling positive about the company and more predisposed to staying in contact and returning.

Those going on leave receive a thank-you note handwritten by Codd (these personal touches are crucial, she adds) as well as a gift for the new arrival, and the knowledge that all profits from the gift go to helping abandoned children elsewhere in the world.

“The response has been extraordinary,” she says. “I get loads of emails now, with baby photos, on a regular basis. People say it makes them feel even warmer about the firm and it’s so incredible that we are supporting this organisation that is doing something amazing. They often tweet about it too.”

Linklaters’ head of HR, dispute resolution and corporate Holly Hirst is both an HR professional and a recipient of a From Babies with Love gift package, so sees the benefits from both sides.

“I was an anxious new mum at home,” she says. “When you receive the gift it reminds you that everyone is thinking of you. But the most important thing to me was that it was helping children that had been orphaned and abandoned. On the day I got it, having just had a baby, that made me quite emotional.”

Hirst already had positive feelings towards her employer but the corporate gift “brings to life the generosity of your organisation because it’s a gift that helps other children who aren’t as fortunate as yours; it really made a difference to how I felt about them”. She adds that innovative thinking like this brings HR and CSR together in a more tangible way.

Incentives with a socially-conscious slant are bound to engage a growing generation of ethical employees better than oft-unused benefits like Tastecards or subsidised gym memberships, because of this ability to elicit an emotional response.

As business and HR consultant at KIS Finance Sue Andrews points out, it can also mean the difference between securing the best talent or not.

To Andrews it is imperative companies “wake up” to the importance of ethical benefits “given the highly-competitive nature of the current employment market”.

“What they really want in any employment package is choice; to be able to opt in to a range of benefits that suit their needs,” she says. “The same is true when considering ethical benefits. Staff want to have choice, but with the knowledge that the benefits on offer are aligned to their values.”

However, there appears to be a mismatch between employee expectations and the action taken by HR. While 78% of employees think it’s important to work for an organisation whose values match their own, just 23% of HR professionals feel that ‘communicating their mission and building a sense of purpose’ is a priority for their organisation, a recent survey by Monster found.

Cecilia Crossley, founder of From Babies with Love, agrees that this idea isn’t on many people’s radars yet.

“I see a lot of reports that talk about the rise of the ‘ethical employee’, but how that translates exactly into HR having a role to play is still in the early stages,” she says.

She points out that some savvy HRDs are starting to catch on to this opportunity to use their benefits strategies to communicate their company’s ethical stance: “I feel we’re at the start of a really exciting journey with HR to translate what they say about social purpose and ethical intention into tangibles. And benefits are a great way to do this.”

So HR magazine has rounded up some of the most exciting ethical benefits options that employers and employees can start taking advantage of. HR

Social enterprise gifts

From Babies with Love is a gift company and social enterprise that gives 100% of its profits to orphaned and abandoned children around the world. It runs a parental leave corporate gift service for companies that want to congratulate employees on maternity/paternity leave. HR directors can include a personalised message with the gift to say the company is thinking about the parent(s) at this life-changing time. Gift bundles typically cost between £29.80 and £72.60.


Experiences that give something back

Virgin Incentives offers a range of employee experiences that give back to others, recognising the increasing desire of employees to make a positive impact on the world. One incentive is a ‘Bee Keeper for a Day’ experience, during which employees can learn more about how to help reduce the decline of the honey bee, costing £125. Or employers can give employees the choice to dine at a restaurant in the grounds of or adjacent to a prison, where inmates in training serve a three-course meal (£80 for two). Participating prisons include HM Prisons Brixton, Cardiff, High Down and Styal. Alternatively, employees can choose a £50 Gift for Good card that makes a direct donation to Virgin Unite’s ‘Ocean Unite’ initiative, which raises awareness and lobbies governments to address damage from over-fishing, climate change, pollution, and habitat loss.


Charitable salary sacrifice

Employees can choose to make charitable donations via payroll, which means payment is taken pre-tax. This makes it easier for employees and also eliminates the time-consuming process for charities of claiming back Gift Aid. Companies can set up payroll giving schemes via professional fundraising organisations (PFOs) such as Payroll Giving in Action. The PFO then sets up a Web page for the company so employees can sign up and donate to their chosen charity. Often employers match the first donation, or ongoing donations.


Supporting local businesses

Gift cards can also provide a way to give back to a cause employees feel strongly about. The MasterChef Gift Card, for example, supports independent British businesses that prioritise sustainability and quality. Partners include family business The Cornish Fishmonger, no-GMO brand Gazegill Organics and ‘Fair for Life’ brand Akesson’s, so employees can buy ethical produce with their cards.


Corporate pick-me-ups

The ‘Boris Bagel’, a traditional smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, gets its name from former mayor of London Boris Johnson who apparently once said that “there is nothing better than a Forman’s salmon bagel”. It can be offered as a corporate pick-me-up and costs £6.95 for two, or £19.95 for six. With every purchase 10p is donated to the Mayor’s Fund for London, which supports ‘London’s Biggest Breakfast’, a club that provides free breakfast to more than 2,500 disadvantaged children every day.


Volunteer work in Africa

For employees wishing to give back to causes in a more active way than donating, staff volunteering is a good option. The Memusi Foundation works with communities in Kenya and Tanzania to provide education to children in poverty, and runs a corporate challenge where organisations can send employees into communities for a week to work on a project. Benefits firm Personal Group offers this as part of its ongoing CSR programme. As well as enabling employees to be part of an unforgettable experience, it also helps people across different offices bond. The scheme sees staff travel to Kenya and change lives by building schools, as well as teaching lessons like feminine hygiene, touch rugby and IT skills.