“There’s growing evidence that suggests the perks companies promote do become important for retention because they talk to people at an emotional and engagement level,” says Mark Ramsook, senior consultant at global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

Charles Orton-Jones, of Racounteur lists the ten most unusual benefits and the case for Flexible Working & Productivity.

1 Daytime naps

daytime naps

BrightHR: cloud human resources software

Paul Harris, co-founder and chief marketing officer: “Fun and play are at the centre of our business ethos. Our office has football nets, scooters and a ping-pong table. We wanted it to be an engaging place for people to enjoy. We really liked the idea of an office bed, which was suggested by an employee. The team can take time out away from their desks to enjoy a power nap and are trusted to do so whenever they need it. We’ve had a great response from staff. One pregnant employee found it particularly beneficial. Employees have been more productive since the arrival of the bed. It is a perk we can highly recommend.”

2 Yoga


Tech Mahindra: IT services and outsourcing

Rakesh Soni, chief people officer: “A company’s health is intrinsically linked to employee health. As such, Tech Mahindra provides regular yoga sessions for staff throughout the year, from one-minute yoga breaks to yoga camps for spouses. It’s part of our commitment to employee wellbeing, an initiative called Wealth of Wellness. We support the International Day of Yoga, in which 60,000 employees took part in yoga sessions around the world. Since last year, there’s been a 43 per cent jump in participation and a 9 per cent increase in employee satisfaction levels. The key to making these programmes work is continued support from our location teams, targetted communication for employees and leadership buy-in to sustain initiatives.”

3 Holidays

holidaysPeldon Rose: interior design

Jitesh Patel, chief executive: “Our business is based on creativity and teamwork so we offer employees both a summer and winter trip each year to ensure we have the inspired, motivated, collaborative teams working on each workplace design project. Organised by employees, the trips are designed to appeal to everyone. Recent destinations have included a city break in Barcelona and skiing in the Kitzbühel Alps, which was particularly good for team building as practised skiers assisted those with less experience. On the last trip, to Fieberbrunn, Austria, 21 of our 60 staff came. The company pays for everything and staff pay it back, interest free, from their pay slip over 12 months, less than £50 per month. The trips are great fun and create lasting friendships, which boosts morale and helps us to retain valuable talent.”

4 Comedy night

comedy nightisobel: creative agency

Bridget Fitzgerald, business director: “We all know beer and banter is great, but all companies, we think, have regular nights out or office drinks. So we created isobelly laughs, a comedy night held in the reception of our agency. In terms of comedians, we’ve had some really great stand-ups. The last event featured Sara Pascoe and Mark Dolan, who were both brilliant. The night not only acts as a massive thank you to our employees for being epic, but also works as an awareness vehicle within the industry and to prospective clients. Our work is all about storytelling and creativity, so this event embodies what we do, who we are and allows everyone we work with to let their hair down.”

5 Sound therapy

sound therapyThreepipe: public relations and digital marketing

Jim Hawker, co-founder: “We have been trialling sound therapy sessions for a little while and have genuinely found them to be helpful. It uses the power of sound and vibration to restore your body, mind and spirit to a sense of balance and harmony. It’s a strange concept and you have to be open-minded to giving it a go and experiencing something quite unusual. It really creates a calming environment in which you can feel your body responding to the music and most people end up having a brilliant night’s sleep after the session. It works well for Threepipe because you can treat groups of people at the same time and people working here are pretty interested in similar treatments or regularly attend yoga sessions.”

6 Charity work

charity workIntuit: accounting software

Rich Preece, Europe vice president and managing director: “All Intuit staff are given four full working days each year to spend outside the office working for a charity or cause of their choice. An example could be helping with flood or disaster relief throughout the country. We also match employee donations to charity up to £1,200 per person and offer employee grants for further charity work. Staff respond really well to this. Many have busy family and personal lives so struggle to find time in their packed schedules to help as much as they’d like to; having dedicated time out for it works. And, as they often volunteer in groups, it boosts morale, helps the team bond and gives them a sense of how to work better together.”

7 Choose your benefits

choose your benefitsExpedia: travel website

Andy Washington, managing director, Northern Europe: “At Expedia, all our employees are eligible to receive substantive travel discounts and travel benefits that pay towards their holidays. In addition, if you work for us in the UK, you have a choice in picking benefits that suit you from a portfolio of over 20 options, including a computing scheme or gym memberships. Every employee receives a flex allowance that can be used towards paying for those chosen benefits.

8 Shares scheme

shares schemeForster Communications: public relations

Peter Gilheany, director: “Around 45 per cent of staff own shares and in the last two years we have targeted, and achieved, a minimum 10 per cent return to employees on their investment, which has helped drive take-up of the scheme. It is one of the first things people ask us about in interviews as they are always intrigued by it. Staff who have taken up the option have indicated in appraisals that it has increased their sense of commitment and passion both in the business and the work we do. Not surprisingly, the key thing is to communicate about it often and make sure shareholders feel part of a specific community.”

09 Achieve your dreams

achieve your dreamsCook: frozen foods

Rosie Brown, people director: “Dream Academy exists to support our people who have a dream or goal they want to achieve. It may be an ambitious grand goal, like buying a house, or something more straightforward (milking a cow). Our dreamers meet with a professional life coach, three times over four months, who helps plot a path to achieving their goal and giving them the tools they need. But ultimately they get there under their own steam. Since 2012, over 60 dreamers have achieved their dreams, which have included being the first member of their family to get a professional qualification, overcoming divorce and smiling with confidence.”

10 Worldwide staff party

staff partyMeltwater: media intelligence

Gregg Hollister, director UK and Ireland: “Meltwater’s Kick Off is a bi-annual event for all 1,300-plus employees, taking place over three days, where the global organisation, across fifty offices and six continents, comes together to share best practice, insights, successes and challenges. Locations have included Las Vegas and Mexico. Kick Off allows employees to become fully immersed in the unique Meltwater culture, which is focused on people development. Internal surveys show it significantly impacts employee engagement. The Kick Off is such a success because the entire organisation is in one space, which is invaluable. It not only galvanises clear business strategy, but also celebrates the success and friendships that make working for Meltwater so special.”

Flexible working for more productive employees

Allowing employees to work when and where they like makes for contented staff and benefits the business often at little or no cost to the company. 

Companies are incorporating all sorts of employee demands into their flexible working offer, from job-sharing and on-site nurseries, to duvet days and “free-ranging”.

Job-sharing options

Trudie Powell and Louisa Taylor are pioneers at job-sharing. They pair up to do a single role at computer brand Dell.

“When I had my daughter six years ago, I wanted to come back to work, but not full time,” recalls Ms Powell. She’d built a career as a sales rep at Dell dealing with global top-500 corporations. “I discussed the options with my manager and Dell were able to be flexible.”

Dashboard 1

A colleague, Ms Taylor, was also on maternity leave, so it was agreed the two would come back and share the job. “Everything is split down the middle,” says Ms Powell. “Two-and-a-half days’ each. She does the first half of the week. I do the second half. We hand over mid-way.”

The trick to a smooth job share is the handover. “We put in a lot of effort to make sure it’s seamless,” says Ms Taylor. The arrangement means both mums get to devote time to their children. And Dell get happy, committed and refreshed workers. “Dell gave us a shot and we’ve proved it works,” adds Ms Taylor.

It’s also worth considering an “ease in, ease out” policy for mums. At public relations firm Golin, mums-to-be get reduced days, compressed hours or work from home to make medical appointments and commuting easier. They then gradually build up from two days a week to their chosen working hours as they return.

Building a ‘people’ business

Maternity, adoption and shared parental leave are well in excess of the statutory minimum – eighteen weeks for shared parental and six weeks for paid paternity leave.

Golin managing director Bibi Hilton explains the payback: “So does any of this actually matter from a business perspective? Absolutely yes. It’s expected today that employers are flexible, family-friendly and supportive, and as a people business, our success is based on being able to attract and retain the best talent in our industry.

“Last year 100 per cent of our mums returned from maternity leave, up from 82 per cent in 2013 and our overall retention rates also rose 5 per cent in the same period. So yes indeed, our progressive approach is helping us to attract and retain the brightest talent.”

Dashboard 2

Holiday time is a key area for flexible working.

The gold standard is Sir Richard Branson’s “unlimited holiday” at Virgin.

But how does it work?

App creator Musement, the brand behind the very popular travel activities app of the same name, also offers no limit to the amount of holiday staff can take. Madness?

“It’s a surprisingly easy policy to instigate and manage,” says Musement chief executive Alessandro Petazzi. “An employee agrees what they want to do with their team and the team agrees it together with no intervention from top management. They have a shared calendar so they know who is away and when, and management doesn’t approve or disapprove holidays, trusting that the team will work together. It’s worked superbly so far.”

Our progressive approach is helping us to attract and retain the brightest talent

The key, he says, is to be the sort of company which people feel positive about and don’t want to escape from.

Media agency The Specialist Works gives staff two BOB – boozed or burnt – days. Operations director Tom Wilson says: “These two days can be used for anything. If you’ve spent the last couple of days pulling together a pitch and need a rest or those drinks on a Thursday night went on a bit late and the thought of work on Friday is worse than the hangover – these are all legitimate reasons for staff to use BOB days.”

Agile working

Even supposedly traditional white-collar sectors are embracing total flexi-working. Accountancy giant Deloitte uses what it calls agile working. This means choosing where you work and when.

Output, not hours, is what counts.

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte, says: “I have never missed a school event and work from home one day a week so I can drop off and collect my children. I am able to do this because I am judged on output, trusted and respected to make the right choices, and because I am open and honest about the way that I work. And my colleagues, in turn, are open and honest with me.”

Supporting colleagues to achieve a good work-life fit will lead to a happier and more productive workforce

M&C Saatchi PR offer free-ranging. This means staff can work anywhere within 1.5 miles of the office. Managing director Chris Hides says: “All our offices around the world are located in vibrant areas in great cities, from Soho in London to Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. These are areas packed full of creative inspiration and free-ranging allows our people to immerse themselves in the inspiration that surrounds them.”

Asda supermarket created a Flexible Working Group to promote awareness of options and gather feedback.

Dashboard 3

Hayley Tatum, senior vice president of people at Asda, says she’s prepared to consider any request, and part-time, job-sharing, remote-working, career breaks, shift-swapping and additional leave are all commonplace. Hot-desking, teleconferencing and remote collaboration tools are standard.

“We believe that supporting colleagues to achieve a good work-life fit, in whatever way best meets their individual needs and circumstances, will in the long run lead to a happier and more productive workforce,” says Ms Tatum.

The evidence suggests she’s right. Flexible arrangements deliver innumerable benefits, for little or zero cost. No wonder they are changing the way we think about work.

Adapting to diverse needs

Proactive employers realise that one-size-fit-all may not be the best for workforces that are more diverse, multi-generational, multi-ethnic and geographically dispersed than ever before.

“Ten years ago, white baby boomers were the most dominant group in work and they had very set views on reward being linked to serving their time,” says Mark Ramsook, senior consultant at global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson. “Now there is a change of mindset, increasingly from the millennial generation, but also Generation X, about workplace benefits needing to be very specific to their different wants and needs.

which benefits are important

The theory is that a cafeteria-style menu enables staff to pick what’s relevant to them. Some may want to bolster life assurance or pensions, or health cover at specific life events, while for others it’s buying and selling extra holiday entitlement that matters.

But, while providing choice might recognise everyone is different, increasingly this approach is being seen as impersonal at a time when employees want to feel special.

Those who really want to engage their workforce realise a new way is needed – profiling exactly who they employ and offering a much more bespoke set of perks.

Starbucks is one such business. Some 50 per cent of its partners are under the age of 25, so after auditing what mattered to them, it launched Home Sweet Loan, a perk which enables staff to get up to one month’s gross salary given in one go to help them pay for rental deposits or upfront rent.

company awareness of employee benefits

“We found the sheer cost of housing was a specific worry for partners, especially paying for deposits,” says Lisa Robbins, director of partner resources at Starbucks. “So, what we’re now offering is the ability to apply for a loan and pay it back over 12 months, as long as people have worked for us for one year. In London especially, people have to move quickly and it’s not having access to funds that holds people back from securing properties.”

With millennials set to comprise 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025, according to Deloitte, it’s no coincidence many firms are putting effort into meeting this particular group’s needs. Benefits include providing loans, through to vouchers and coupons where, just by spending normally, staff can save up to £1,000 a year, according to P&MM Employee Benefits.


Offering finance options

Some employers are going further still, offering actual financial products for their staff. KPMG recently joined forces with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank to offer staff the sorts of preferential mortgage rates that would not normally be available. “Buying a property is the key aim for staff, many of whom we know are still living with their parents into their 30s,” says Sara Flanagan, KPMG’s head of employee benefits and wellbeing.

“Our staff’s future earnings are high, so we’ve been able to leverage this earlier by negotiating with the banks to give them a private account now. It’s this which gives the preferential mortgage rates they wouldn’t have been able to get until they were earning more.”

Simon Mounsey, at business services firm Agilisys, has gone one step further, partnering with SalaryFinance, to offer staff the ability to pay off loans. SalaryFinance aggregates many debts into a single amount, which staff can pay off through payroll at a much lower rate of interest.

“While we don’t want to create ways for staff to get into debt, what we knew was that large numbers of staff had debt problems,” he says. “By offering this we’re able to save staff around £1,000 each in interest payments per year. Around 50 staff out of 600 have taken advantage of this.”

The secret really does seem to be profiling. At the other end of the age spectrum, Age UK, where almost 70 per cent of staff are over the age of 40, offers retirement planning workshops and it negotiates 5 to 10 per cent discounts on insurance products.


Understanding cultural needs

But there’s one area where employers arguably do need to up their game. Recent official figures show around 11 per cent of the workforce now come from an ethnic minority background and, if minority staff really want to feel valued, perks pertinent to them, such as Sharia-compliant pension schemes, need greater attention.

“Benefits that speak to different people’s cultural norms will have to become much more prevalent,” says KPMG’s Ms Flanagan, who not only enables staff to observe religious holidays, but ensures other areas are accommodated.


If you want to really engage your staff, think more creatively about what different perks you can offer and who they might appeal to.


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