The Personnelity

With employee benefits expenditure in the UK worth millions, it is incredible that organisations do not make more of a song and dance about their benefits, or even consult employees on which benefits they would most like.

When Employee Benefits magazine and Taylor Nelson Sofres teamed up to ask nearly 1,000 employees about their attitudes towards benefits last month, some sobering figures were thrown up. Only 38 per cent of employees are ever consulted about which benefits they want. No wonder employees suffer from a lack an appreciation of benefits, with more than 40 per cent saying they would prefer to give up their benefits and get more cash instead.

A key way to recruit and retain staff is by offering them a benefits package they appreciate. But let’s not kid ourselves that it is the be all and end all – any employee who say they only work for you because of the pension scheme is likely to be pulling your leg. But along with training and development, benefits are moving quickly up the agenda of what is needed to attract and to hang on to good staff.

It is not surprising that employers say they want to get the most for the amount of money spent on benefits. What is surprising, though, is how few employers take the route of promoting benefits by simply telling employees about them.

I am not talking about the handbook that was sent out with the initial contract of employment, which is gathering dust in the back of a desk drawer. I am talking branded posters, clear brochures, easy-to-navigate websites and even briefings from line managers.

If you think all this would be a waste of time and money, take note of a few more figures from the Employee Benefits/Taylor Nelson Sofres research survey. Only six per cent remembered they were given life assurance, when other Employee Benefits research shows that up to 78 per cent of UK organisations offer this benefit. Similar disparities were found for income protection and share schemes. Although it might be reassuring to note that 33 per cent of employees think they know what they are entitled to, there are still 26 per cent wandering around, not quite sure what makes up their overall package.

So how do you explain to staff how much their share options will be worth if they stay with the company for another few years? Or how do you get across exactly how much its costs the firm to provide a company car, complete with maintenance contracts and insurance?

Most employee benefits experts would agree that the place to begin is to find out if you are giving employees what they want. It’s no good blowing the trumpet about benefits that have been out of vogue since England last won the World Cup.

You also need to be sure the benefits in question fit into your firm’s culture. Pensions in a firm full of graduates will not go down as well as, say, home loans or offers to pay off student loans.

After that, your imagination is your only limit. If you feel you need to, have a chat to your marketing department to see if they can come up with some ideas on how to put together a communication campaign. An eye-catching poster with reference to an intranet site on benefits will do a lot better than an A4 typed memo stuck above the tea urn.

Be clear about how much you are spending on each employee. Total reward statements have been around for years, but have recently found favour again. Giving each staff member of staff a statement with a clear breakdown of the value of each benefit added to their annual salary is usually very sobering for any employee whingeing that the dotcom down the road pays more.

Debi O’Donovan is editor of Employee Benefits magazine.