· Features

Powerful perks - Benefits to brag about

Which are the perks that really make a difference to employees' lives? Peter Crush looks at some out-of-the-ordinary examples that make people happy.

Is a car a benefit to brag about?

Absolutely, it's fleet company Arval's solution to being based on an industrial estate miles outside Swindon, giving employees the chance to nip into town at any time of the day and sort out their chores.

What is it? It's Smart's new oil-bashing electric eco-car, powered from the mains, with a range of 70 miles per charge.

Why was it introduced? Danny Clenaghan, head of Arval's environmental impact group, bought it last June after noticing staff needed to make lots of trips into town to get shopping or organise their lives. Rather than use their own cars for lots of small (high-polluting) journeys, he decided an electric pool car would help save the planet as well as giving staff the chance to leave their cars at home and do their own errands. Employees can book it up in advance, at any time of the day, and it's available around the clock. Company car-owning staff can even take it home for the weekend. From June to December 2008 it had already clocked up 1,800 miles' worth of green miles, and because the Swindon office is on a green electricity tariff, charging the car up is also carbon-neutral.

How often does it get used? If a morning in the life of this car is anything to go by, quite a lot, and staff love the benefit:

10am - Sarah Condon, 29, works in the company's communications department. As a car sharer, Condon has already left her own car behind, and travelled with a friend, so being on-site without any wheels is bad news if she needs to pop into town. "I'm studying for a CIM diploma, and recently I needed to go into town to post my assignments," she says. "Having the Smart car on hand was a godsend. I was also the person who picked the car up from the Bristol dealership and delivered it. It's lovely to drive. Today I need to head out to collect some bits and pieces."

11am - Today, Melissa Kershaw's own company car is being serviced. "In these instances, I'd have to arrange a replacement vehicle, but today I can use the Smart car. I need to head to the supermarket to pick up some stuff for later, so it's really useful. Sorry, must dash, need to be back at my desk soon ..."

11.45am - It's the post run and administrator Victor Greenhill is about to drive out on the first one of the day. "It's about three miles to the nearest post office, and previously I would have driven an old diesel many times a day to cash cheques or post outgoing parcels. Now I'm doing about 10-12 miles a day in the Smart car. It is just as quick - and it's a lot easier to park. I don't live that far away, and I'd buy one of these cars if I had the chance."

12.30pm - Company director Danny Clenaghan is off to a meeting. "I live about 23 miles away, and sometimes I drive it from home as well. It's perfect for conducting close meetings and saves me using my own car. I've also taken it home over the weekend and have used it to drive my son to school events. He loves it. I am also part of Swindon's Strategic Economic Partnership, which sees me driving it to schools and explaining about energy-friendly cars."

Fruit drops

OK, so it is not quite free gym membership, but research from fruit provider, www.fruitdrop.co.uk, says providing free fruit at work compares just as favourably as more costlier health perks. A fruit drop costs just £25 per week for 15-20 people, and aims to deliver to firms on the same morning as the fruit arrives. Recent research by the CBI found workplace absenteeism costs British business £11.6 billion a year, with healthy employees being 20% more productive than unhealthy ones.

Massaging the figures

Universal Music, the Youth Justice Department, Surrey County Council and Live Earth are just some of the companies whose staff benefit from having regular on-site massage treatments (above.) Services, provided by Glo Wellbeing, include acupuncture, reflexology, allergy tests, life coaching and nutrition advice. Fees start from £65 per hour, but three hours or more start from £50. This puts a 20-minute treatment at just £17.50. For more information contact www.glo-wellbeing.co.uk

Travelling responsibly

The world's largest ethical online travel company provides corporate vouchers to allow clients to reward their employees with money off thousands of ethically-run adventure, wildlife and special interest holidays. The vouchers start at £50, and can be used as long-service, performance, or customer-service rewards. See www.responsibletravel.com

Healthy cooking

Stripped down to your undies, and with robe and slippers donned, you step cautiously into what can only be described as a giant human oven. The 10ft x12ft box, with round-the-wall heating rods, is actually the latest in sauna technology, where instead of sitting in a pool of your own sweat, in a misty, moist wooden room, you get an 'infra-red' sauna instead. Mark my words, you still get hot, and you still perspire a bucket-load, but unlike its Swedish forebears, this is dry, arid heat that is sensitively controllable through the flick of a switch. For extra comfort you can change the lighting to suit your mood, can infuse the air with some relaxing blends of oils, and bring in your own music to play. Each 'pod' has is own private shower and steam room next to it, and can be enjoyed alone or with partners. Luxury leisure and gifts company SmartBox offers this experience to corporates at the Kavala Beauty Spa in Chelmsford. A 30-minute session is supposed to relax you and the heat will apparently help you burn off more than 600 calories at the same time. And because you lean up against infra-red heaters, the kidneys are very grateful, as they benefit from increased blood to the back, which helps flush out toxins. See www.smartbox.com/uk