The days when employers would allocate staff a certain amount of money and then allow them to pick and choose some benefits beyond a base level of core products are largely over.
Today employers are more likely to provide staff with a number of core benefits (often company-funded) and complement these with a comprehensive range of ‘extras’ comprising of salary sacrifice options and voluntary, staff-funded, benefits.
Central to this is the idea of choice, both in the type of product and the level of cover. The idea is simple: give employees the ability to pick what they want and they will value it more, be more engaged, and feel greater loyalty.
Andy Cartwright, strategy director for engagement firm Grass Roots, says the types of benefit on offer actually tend to differ very little, but what can make an employer stand out is how employees access them, with people now expecting an “Amazon”-style online shopping experience.
Making benefits accessible to people at home and on the move as well as at work is also important. “We see 25% of traffic outside working hours. We’ve even seen benefit selections taking place at 11:55pm on New Year’s Eve,” he says. “People’s lives change on a daily basis.”
So who’s doing what when it comes to a pick and mix approach? HR magazine takes a look…
Builders’ merchant Travis Perkins operates two benefits platforms, both of which were relaunched in 2015. The first is a flex scheme housing a range of salary sacrifice benefits – including childcare vouchers, a cycle-to-work scheme, private medical insurance, cash plans, access to mobile phones and other technology, and a car leasing scheme – where individuals can choose to deduct money from their gross pay to spend on the benefits they want.
Alongside this is the Plus platform run by Reward Gateway, which offers access to retail discounts from more than 800 retailers as well as a cashback scheme; something that has proved very popular with employees.
This will also soon be the basis for the company’s reward and recognition scheme – Getting It Right – where employees can be rewarded by managers and given a cash sum to spend on the platform.
“The idea is that they will get a £50 voucher and can spend that on what they want,” says Gemma McClure, reward manager. “Previously, for long service we used an old brochure where people would have to choose a carriage clock or something like that. Now people can use the money to put towards something that’s going to be useful. It gives more control to the individual, rather than us having control over it.”
High street bank Santander looked to revitalise its benefits offering four years ago, after realising it was not as competitive as its peers’. The new system offers anytime access to a wide range of benefits – with the exception of certain insurances, which can only be taken out twice a year.
Products include critical illness cover, life insurance, and dental cover, as well as a range of lifestyle benefits including retail discounts, holiday purchase and a salary sacrifice car scheme.
Elliott Rees-Davies, the bank’s reward director, says offering employees the ability to choose benefits that are important to them is essential. “Our 20- to 30-year-old population potentially might have some debt, so anything with a discount or where they can save money is probably going to be top of their list,” he says. “With more mature individuals, people might have a family so some of the deals that we have around life insurance might appeal to them.”
Knowing what certain people have chosen could open the door to tailoring suggestions for others, he adds. “The next step would be to tailor benefits to specific populations; a bit like the Amazon model where you can see that other individuals who are interested in x are also interested in y,” he adds. “That’s where we’d like to evolve it.” He’d also like to start tailoring messages to particular employees when they experience notable life events.
“If someone comes back from maternity leave we can say ‘congratulations, life insurance might now be something that you want to give some consideration to’,” he explains.
Virgin Management works with Thomsons Online Benefits to offer employees a variety of benefits including access to its Virgin Tribe discount site, which houses a range of offers from the wider Virgin Group as well as other retailers.
Staff can also take advantage of its wellbeing programme, including its Virgin Pulse initiative, where they can receive either cash or a healthy reward such as yoga lessons, physiotherapy, massages and Abel & Cole fruit and vegetable boxes for hitting particular targets.
Each employee also receives a voucher worth £75 to spend on a Virgin Experience Day on their birthday. They can then decide whether to select an experience or donate the money to charity.
There are a number of other, company-funded, benefits including private healthcare, where individuals will soon be able to choose from two levels of cover, with the higher level attracting a greater degree of benefit-in-kind tax.
Nick Lawry, Virgin’s reward manager, says the thinking is to offer benefits attractive to all. “One of the acid tests for any new benefit is whether it offers enough choice and flexibility,” he says. “This should mean that you can introduce one benefit but build in enough variety so that it will have universal appeal across your employee population.”