The rise of environmentally friendly employee benefits

Employee benefits have come a long way from a generous pension contribution and free milk in the office.

We now live in a world of gym memberships, unlimited holidays, free meals and, in the case of one US hedge fund, the chance to be cryogenically frozen as part of your healthcare plan.

Putting the morbid to one side, the changing nature of the employee perk says a lot about how people choose their job and what companies must do to attract the most talented people.

Traditionally employee benefits have been focused on the financial, with companies looking to lure employees with the promise of financial security.

This meant offering packages that included things like pension contributions, share-purchase programmes and corporate discounts. Financial considerations are obviously still central, but in the race to attract the best talent it's no longer enough.

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Yet the focus of employee benefits has now shifted from financial to health and wellbeing, with employees prioritising their work/life balance, as well as becoming more conscious of the mental and physical toll high-pressure jobs can take.

This has led to a proliferation of perks, with companies experimenting with everything from free gym memberships and yoga classes, to unlimited holiday allowances and free meals.

This change didn't happen by accident or at the impetus of companies, but rather as a result of the changing attitudes of employees, including the greater openness and awareness in society of the importance of mental health.

So where does the employee benefit go next? To understand this and get ahead of the curve you should look to how the attitudes of employees – and particularly younger employees – are changing.

According to a study by Purpose Pulse of people from the Millennial and Gen Z age groups, 61% of people said it was important or very important that companies take a stance on issues that matter to them, with 71% seeing the climate emergency as the single biggest issue facing their generation.

There is much made of the rise of the 'ethical consumer', but just as important for businesses is the rise of the 'ethical employee'. There is a lot of evidence to support this, for example a Harvard Business Review survey which found that nine out of 10 workers would choose to earn less money to do more meaningful work.

The 'ethical employee' doesn't just pick an employer for the size of the pay packet or brand on their CV, but picks it because it has a positive societal impact.

And more than any other issue, they want companies to have a positive impact on the environment. This tells you everything you need to know about where the most creative HR and recruitment functions will take their employee benefits offer next.

If businesses want to continue to attract the best talent, they will have to put action on climate change and social purpose at the heart of what they do.

This means reducing the environmental impact of their operations and taking responsibility for their supply chains, but it also extending this to their employees and offering sustainable benefits that help them combat climate change.

HR leaders will find a way to give their employees a meaningful benefits package. There are a number of ways this can be done, such as offsetting the personal carbon footprint of employees and giving them access to sustainable benefits and discounts.

For companies that take on responsibility for an employee's financial security and wellbeing, the natural next step is for them to take responsibility for their environmental impact.

Jack Curtis and Jacques Sheehan are co-founders of environmental startup Carbon Jacked.