Jim Barnett: The art of putting cost effective employee benefits in place

Workplace benefits need to be carefully thought out and be seen not as a simple perk, but a real investment in personnel.

Innovators – Google, Apple, LinkedIn and Virgin are continually coming up with innovative benefits to entice and retain talent from encouraging staff to bring their pets to work to desk-side massages.

According to a recent survey by the La Salle Network, for millennials attractive benefits at target firms are cited as among the top reasons they look to change job. Of course they don’t want to work somewhere just because they offer table football or free snacks. Rather, they want to work for organisations that offer structured help with their finances, for instance, or professional growth opportunities.

While fun office perks might initially attract some candidates, they aren’t the reason most employees stay with a company. What people really want is an open, supportive and strong corporate culture with traditional benefits that will enhance the employee experience and develop their career paths.

So, how should a brand’s leadership respond? Savvy business and organisational leaders need to explain why any incentive is being implemented and how it willpromote employee satisfaction and well-being. They also need to listen to feedback from their employees. It is far better to address any negativity from the off to create actionable, positive change.

Data analysis and the benefits structure

 The benefit structure across organisations varies dramatically. Every organisation has its own individual ‘engagement DNA’ which outlines the elements that make for a happy, committed and productive workforce. This map will give you important insight into what benefits are important to employees.

Glint data highlights the fact that most workforces believe professional growth opportunities, a feeling of belonging to the organisation and a robust company culture are key drivers for employee engagement. By running surveys regularly with all levels of an organisation’s workforce you can quickly understand employee sentiment from top to bottom and the benefits required for a healthy and inspired workforce.

A deeper dive

Once your organisation has gathered a pool of preliminary data you can take a deeper dive into why certain benefits and programmes attract employees, while others don’t.

This can be done by one-to-one interviews or in-depth surveys. Whichever route your organisation chooses, there should be two-way communication to gain real feedback.

With this insight, you can work out which benefits would best align with your organisation’s workforce. Remember that each organisation is unique, so all efforts should be made to understand and respond to these differences.

Based on your corporate culture, values and survey feedback, pick out a few key areas to support, such as flexibility, diversity and training. Map your benefit structure around these areas and pick off ones you can address successfully. It is impossible to take every issue up at once. For organisations where health and wellbeing comes out top of the list, look at providing gym membership, yoga classes at lunchtime or stress management modules.

Choosing the right benefits

The next and most crucial step is the implementation of workplace benefits. Once you’ve put together and launched new benefit programmes, you need to communicate to your staff internally that these are a direct result of their input into the surveys. This shows that the organisation is listening to its employees and that their feedback is being heard and, more importantly, being acted on.

Benefit programmes are not a case of launching and forgetting. It is a continuous process of tweaking and tailoring. Use the first month of launching a benefit programme as a pilot period to gather more feedback from the team to ensure you are hitting the mark, and continue to check in regularly with them to see how these benefits are being used or if they require a re-think.

Moving forward

While benefits programmes are intended to improve the lives of employees, it’s important that they don’t get viewed as manipulative or as ways to keep employees at the office longer than necessary. Internal communication is paramount here in terms of avoiding any misunderstandings.

It’s only by understanding your organisation’s ‘engagement DNA’ that you can build truly meaningful programmes. It can also save you resources and money by helping you focus on those workforce benefits that are most impactful for motivating and retaining employees. When done well, a benefits programme can contribute to a more flexible, healthy and inclusive working environment – such as flexible working, which can be beneficial for working parents; a wellness initiative that encourages healthier lifestyles; or a travel voucher to support individuals who commute the longest to the office.

And when powered by employee feedback on what your team feels is missing or what could help improve things, benefits programmes and engagement initiatives can help support a sense of belonging within your workplace and create an environment where all employees thrive and perform at their best.