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L-R: Chief operating officer of Perkbox, Gautam Sahgal; CEO and founder of Hive HR, John Ryder; head of employee health and benefits at Jelf, Rachel Riley.
Jane Imrie

Friday beers, flexibility and 'faux-culture': Perkbox, Hive HR and Jelf talk employee benefits

Businesses of all industries and sizes share the challenge of attracting and retaining the best employee talent.

But in a professional landscape where the ‘gig economy’ is on the rise, how do companies sell themselves to prospective employees and keep their workforce engaged and motivated?

In a bid to identify what workers really want and how businesses can attract the top talent, Bdaily spoke with three professionals from the employee satisfaction and benefits sectors.

Employee benefits firm Perkbox; employee satisfaction software Hive HR; and SME insurance and employee benefits specialist Jelf all shared their insights on the subject.

Perks such as ’Beer Fridays’ and ’pool table in the office’ are currently a popular strategy among startups and less ’traditional businesses’. Do you feel that professionals value culture-focused perks, do they want more concrete benefits, or a mix of the two?

Gautam Saghal, chief operating officer at Perkbox: “Every employee is different, and it’s important to bear that in mind. Ideally, companies should have a variety of perks so that there is something for everyone.

“Pool tables and beer Fridays are ‘nice to have’, but are often perks that only resonate with a certain demographic of employees (as our Great Perk Search research concluded). For other employees, benefits like private medical insurance and social events are of more value.

“Some recent research we carried out on the topic of perks found that there’s often a disconnect between what employers think employees want vs what they actually want - so remember that communication is key to having a perks and benefits programme that works for your employees and gives you the right return on investment.

John Ryder, founder and CEO of Hive HR: “I’m not sitting on the fence when I say that it’s all about understanding specifically what your workforce wants and then catering for that. Ask your workforce. Make an informed decision.

“I think that beer and pool tables is ‘faux-culture’ at lots of places and shouldn’t be confused as the same thing as having a good culture.

“What is the culture you want to nurture? Define it. Write it down. Once it’s crystallised, ask yourself whether certain perks, benefits or rituals support and nurture that culture. Start there.”

Rachel Riley, head of employee health and benefits at Jelf “There has never been a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to satisfying the needs of employees. It is important to recognise that successful SMEs are already embracing diverse workforces, all with different requirements and working practices.

“In order to thrive and compete, SMEs need to recruit and attract the very best talent, and those employees need to feel valued - regardless of their employment status.

“Competitive compensation packages are not enough in today’s environment; the range of employee benefits on offer plays a key role in an individual’s decision making when considering joining a new organisation.”

The government is currently debating making flexible working a right for all employees. How important do you feel this is, and how will businesses have to adapt?

GS: “Flexible working is hugely important for many of today’s employees, especially when it comes to work-life balance - they can be more productive by avoiding commuting and the stress and costs linked to it.

“For businesses, the two crucial elements for adapting to flexible working are having the right technologies in place to ensure communication, and collaboration remains at the forefront of it all, and trust towards your employees to deliver results in the environment and work schedules that suit them best. If flexible working results in micromanagement, all its benefits are lost.

“It’s also important to realise that there are also benefits linked to flexible working that impact not only employees but employers alike. Having a flexible working policy helps attract and retain staff and reduce costs in relation to absenteeism, sick leave and burnout.”

JR: “It’s huge. Employees’ expectations of the work experience are changing at break-neck speed for organisations in all sectors, and flexible working is becoming more commonplace as a must-have rather than a perk.

“Employers are increasingly realising the benefits that this can have on their business as readily as it can improve the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees.

“9 to 5 is a hangover from the industrial revolution, thought up by working rights reformists to protect employees who were working an average of 10-16 hours a day. We’re way past that! 9 - 5 is more like an arbitrary and irrelevant schedule that doesn’t consider the best patterns for effective and productive working in the modern workplace.”

RR: “The most important part of this discussion is the end customer. Ultimately businesses need to be set up and run with the end customer in mind otherwise they will simply not succeed; if customers are not served then the business ceases to exist.

“Employers want the most effective employees and this can require a degree of flexibility both on the part of the employee as well as the employer.

“Striking a healthy balance is key - and very much achievable.”

Given the well-documented funding issues within the NHS, how important do you feel healthcare benefits are to UK workers?

GS: “Healthcare benefits will be of more importance for certain employees than others. Some recent research we carried out found that private healthcare ranked 15th in the list of employee preferences this year, so while it is a perk liked by employees, it’s not a top priority for everyone.

“However, it’s also because of the importance we feel healthcare benefits should have that at Perkbox we’ve launched Perkbox Medical - a resource that helps employers support their employees’ health by enabling them to complement their NHS services with a free online GP available 24/7.”

JR: “Flexibility is key because healthcare benefits come in many different guises - it’s not one size fits all for every demographic.

“For example, more than any other demographic, Gen-Z is attracted by preventative initiatives and wellbeing services as opposed to traditional healthcare perks, particularly with the rise of mental health-related issues within this demographic.”

RR: “Healthcare benefits are key to UK employers where there is a demonstrable return on investment. The performance of the NHS varies throughout the UK, with some areas experiencing a pretty good level of service.

“Healthcare benefits packages therefore have to be designed with this in mind; companies will all have different requirements depending on where they are and the health profiles of employees.

“It should be noted that healthcare benefits are there to fill the gaps rather than serve as substitutes. Diagnosis-only schemes and access to virtual GP services are two particular benefit options which are gaining in popularity amongst employers.”

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