How to offer benefits on a budget

3 Sep 2019 By Yinka Opaneye

There are many ways smaller or more cash-conscious businesses can provide great employee perks, says Yinka Opaneye

Employees can no longer be expected to be satisfied with just a salary and safe workplace environment, they expect more – benefits. However, trying to compete, especially when operating as a start-up, small business or member of the charitable sector, can be difficult. We might not all be able to provide the catered lunches of Google, the egg-freezing options of Facebook or final salary pensions of Transport for London, but there are other ways in which more cash-conscious companies can still provide great benefits. 

Additional leave

A recent employee benefit survey by Aviva found that the most sought-after benefit in the UK is additional or longer paid leave. The survey found that any amount above 28 days (excluding bank holidays) is viewed as particularly desirable and welcomed. Unlike other benefit costs this one is not so obvious because it is an opportunity cost. If planned properly, its impact should be minimal, if felt at all. And, for those businesses particularly feeling adventurous, you could offer ‘unlimited leave’: conveying, quite subtly, the level of trust an employer has in its people. Other quirky and increasingly popular leave periods include: birthdays off, snooze days (starting work later) and days off to domesticate new pets! 

Remote/flexible working 

For firms and careers that rely on cloud-based computing and can essentially be completed remotely, it’s advisable to offer or promote remote or flexible working. Flexible working is consistently ranked as the most sought-after of benefits. The great thing about offering flexible working is that it can benefit multiple cohorts and generations: parents/carers, highly stressed workers or those that particularly enjoy travel and self-development.  

Financial guidance

Many employees would like to be offered financial assistance as a benefit. The reasons for financial assistance differ between generations. It’s an expensive benefit to offer, but as a business you can offer financial education or literacy instead. Many employees need financial guidance when making large decisions such as planning for retirement, buying a home or making another significant purchase. For one company, I asked our bank account managers if they could provide a few presentations on these matters. They agreed at no cost to the firm. Employees were free to have some basic questions answered and were left feeling more confident when dealing with these matters too.  

Saving money on benefits

It would not be right to talk about benefits without advising on which aspects to avoid. Employee discount and health cash plan schemes: on the face of it, these benefit models are great. They offer employee customisation and access to several 100s of products and services all at a relatively low monthly fee. However, discount platforms and vouchers offered by employers are, according to a recent survey by Hays, some of the least sought-after benefits. 

I have seen them implemented in three organisations with the same result: employees rarely used them. At one business we paid quarterly, spending upwards of £800. When we conducted the analysis, we found it generated only £15 of savings for our employees. These schemes also require consistent internal promotion by HR, otherwise they will be forgotten. It’s a good idea to request a usage report from your provider to assess whether the scheme is worth the cost. 

The provision of benefits as well as a salary is now standard in most businesses. This is particularly the case for highly sought-after roles in technology and data science. However, that does not mean you have to, as a business, spend large amounts of money in this area. The easiest method is to offer benefits that are sought across multiple generations and groups, such as additional paid leave and where possible remote/flexible working. Lastly, conduct an audit of your current benefits: how much do they cost and do people actually use them? By following these simple approaches you can get some great returns on your benefits’ investment.

Yinka Opaneye is HR director at GameAnalytics

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