How to Make the Most of Employee Benefits

21st August 2019
Catherine Vickery

As recruiters, a lot of our time is spent meeting candidates, visiting clients and communicating between companies and prospective employees. When we’re giving candidates the details of a new position, salary, bonus schemes and holiday allowance are all crucial considerations, but increasingly, employee benefits and perks are also an important part of this conversation and are an emerging area of research.

Studies show workplace benefits can have manifold positive effects, including better staff morale, improved engagement, a better work-life balance and consequently lower staff turnover. In addition, where these perks can also help improve the health of employees, such as health insurance, mental health helplines and discounted gym memberships, the company should also see a benefit from lower rates of absenteeism and improved well-being across the workforce.

A recent Glassdoor survey reported that almost 60% of people cited perks and benefits as being among their top considerations when deciding on a new job, with private health insurance, gym memberships and retail vouchers topping this ‘most-wanted’ list. But whilst it’s recognised that benefits are an important consideration for employers, it’s not always an easy thing to get right; last year a survey found that 64% of employees feel businesses are investing in expensive benefits that they neither want, nor use.

In smaller companies it can be easier for bosses to tailor the benefits they offer to suit individual workers and make sure they’re investing in the right range of perks. Here at MacKenzie King, we recently asked our team what kind of benefits and rewards they’d be interested in, and so in addition to standard contracted benefits such as critical illness cover, some recent changes have included providing free fruit in the office, as well as sweets and biscuits; the choice of gift vouchers or an extra day’s holiday for birthdays; shorter office hours of 9am to 5pm; and discussions about a ‘bring your dog to work’ day to help out staff with canine commitments!

For larger businesses, one increasingly popular solution is to use an external service such as Perkpal or Perkbox who promise to help companies offer and manage a more flexible range of benefits. This trend perhaps reflects recent findings that 90% of employers believe they will need to change the benefits they offer in order to meet the needs of future generations of workers. These perk-providers offer an online platform that allows staff to access free eye tests, childcare vouchers and cycle to work schemes; freebie rewards such as wine tasting, mindfulness courses, virtual exercise classes and debt management services; discounts on cinema, shopping and restaurants; and at Perkpal an Employee Assistance Programme provides legal, financial and emotional support.

These companies claim that their services will help businesses attract the best talent, retain staff more effectively and help cultivate a positive work environment, with people feeling rewarded and increasing motivation. One customer testimonial claims that since subscribing to Perkbox, they’ve seen staff turnover reduce from 44% to 33% – however, a quick look at some other reviews show that these schemes work better for some organisations than others.

Some of the employers MacKenzie King has worked with also seem to be reinforcing the feeling that businesses are looking outside the traditional types of benefits and offering a more imaginative range of perks. Some recent benefits we’ve been able to tell candidates about include:

  • A Japanese-owned company offering free Japanese language lessons.
  • Staff having the option to take up to 5 paid volunteer days a year, to benefit local charities.
  • In-office massages and reflexology sessions.
  • A monthly fundraising raffle where staff can win an extra day’s holiday.

Sometimes companies need to give new benefit ideas a try in order to see if they really work and represent good value for money. This article by Charlie HR founder Ben Gately describes how their company reverted to a conventional holiday allowance, after trying an unlimited holiday policy for three years, but ultimately finding that employees actually ended up taking less holiday than before, feeling guilty about taking annual leave and ultimately having a worse work-life balance instead of a better one.

Clearly, it’s imperative for employers to monitor and regularly review benefits packages, ensure that employees at all levels are kept well-informed about what’s on offer and encourage discussion amongst the workforce about what perks they’d like to see introduced. Personally, I’m campaigning for a company pony in the field behind the MacKenzie King office in Ipswich – I’ll let you know how I get on!