Delivering the right package

Putting thought and effort into tailoring a benefits package will ultimately pay off. By Diana Palmer

Recruitment and retention of high-calibre professional staff are among the main challenges facing HR managers in today’s market, and the legal sector is no exception. While the drive to attract and keep the best staff is paramount, there is intense pressure to implement innovative and cost-effective measures that instill loyalty. So how does a mid-size legal firm tackle this employment conundrum?

Bevan Brittan decided that the key was employee benefits and embarked on a project to overhaul its entire portfolio to reflect the profile of the firm. By adopting a consultative approach, involving personnel from all levels, it found out exactly what benefits colleagues would ideally like to have.

The purpose of restructuring the firm’s benefits portfolio was twofold – to put into practice benefits that have real value and to leverage the most from the budget.

In today’s volatile marketplace it is not enough to provide a gym membership and a performance bonus. No business, regardless of size, can sustain a policy based on cash incentives alone. Employees know their worth and are willing to walk away from the negotiating table if the offer is not good enough. Firms need to think holistically to construct a benefits package that truly delivers employee satisfaction to attract and retain high-quality staff.

Bevan Brittan was advised to carry out an internal audit. The data gathered would reveal the true picture of the firm and benchmark it in relation to the competition. It entailed criteria including age, lifestyle, role within the business, who had taken up the existing benefits package and their perceptions of the company. For example, it was discovered that the average age of employees is 37, which is young for the stereotypical law firm – a fact greatly influencing the provision of benefits.

Through the research the firm discovered that most people appreciated the value of private medical insurance and permanent health insurance for the peace of mind they provide.

The audit also uncovered that only 69 per cent of employees took part in the existing pension scheme. This needed to change, so the firm introduced a new pension scheme with a simple streamlined joining process. Complemented by an awareness campaign including workshops, posters, use of the intranet and one-to-one counselling, take up rose to 95 per cent.

The firm also set up a Bikes4You programme, childcare vouchers and a computer purchase scheme. And by working with third-party partners the firm has been able to respond to employee requests in a manner that also happens to be tax effective.

Another step that made a huge difference to morale and loyalty was extending the benefits package to all employees. This included private medical insurance, an employee assistance programme (providing counselling services), income protection and a dental policy, all of which were previously reserved for senior managers.

Enhanced benefits deliver more than cash – the perceived value from the exercise itself has boosted the general feeling among employees. By involving employees in the decision-making process from the beginning, they feel more engaged with the business and comprehend the associated costs.

The aim is to gradually move towards a flexible benefits programme enabling employees to pick and choose benefits to suit their particular circumstances.

Diana Palmer is director of HR at Bevan Brittan