How to become friends with benefits

Nicki Pritchard (pictured), managing partner of executive search firm Anderson Quigley, explores the employee benefits and perks that can attract and retain talent.

Benefits are more important than ever in a world in which demand for talent is greater than supply. 

In a post-pandemic era where remote working has become the norm, more unusual benefits like egg-freezing or low interest loans for property purchases are catching the eye.

These examples can be lifelines for some, but remember: not every benefit is going to appeal to every employee.

Here are handy tips to think about when you are building your company’s benefits package.

Set a package that fits the target audience

Consider the talent you're trying to attract. 

Many businesses need to recruit a range of roles from senior team leaders to graduate researchers. The former are likely to be at a different stage of life to the latter and have different interests and needs. 

Older people with families may not be as interested in free drinks at the pub on a Friday (although some may well be!), while younger people are generally less likely to be considering enhanced pension contributions.

Different people want different things from a policy and benefits package.

Not every benefit will be attractive to everyone

Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that some benefits don’t work for some employees.

The objective is to ensure that enough benefits are meaningful to each prospective employee who you’re trying to attract or retain.

They must be tailored enough to impact an employee’s quality of working life. 

Is it a perk… or is it PR?

As firms become ever more competitive in their benefits packages, more creative offers are emerging. We’re seeing a trend towards unusual benefits that some would argue are created to make a headline. 

Popular LinkedIn posts show companies offering financial support for staff who want to change gender. That is laudable if done for the right reasons – to offer a benefit to employees – rather than to go viral for publicity. 

Uncapped holiday is another one that fits into this category. It sounds great. But some studies have shown people offered this benefit actually take less holiday. 

New starters often don’t feel comfortable policing themselves. Conversely, if senior employees disappear travelling for months on end, how is your business going to function?

It’s important to weigh up a benefit in theory and a benefit in practice. It’s no good to attract a great potential employee in with an amazing list of benefits that they can’t ultimately use. That will only breed resentment.

If you genuinely feel a less common benefit can work for you - and you’re confident staff will use it – then go for it. But a benefit is like planning an event or holiday – every eventuality needs to be thought through. 

Attraction vs Retention

You’ve attracted amazing talent with your benefits package. But can you keep that talent?

Providing staff with free breakfast and lunch is a crowd-pleaser that could attract prospective employees to your business. But less glamorous personal development benefits tend to be the ones existing employees value. 

Enhanced training packages and career progression have a bit more substance and long-term reward than a pain au raisin (however delicious).

Benefits need to be lived and breathed, otherwise they’re an empty promise. 

Cost and worth are different things

Companies can get caught up with expensive benefits. But there is a lot you can offer that doesn’t cost a lot. Flexible working is obviously a key one. Some businesses are pressuring teams to return to the office but having trust in your employees doesn’t cost anything. 

Trusting teams to work the number of hours needed to get their job done is arguably the sign of a grown up business.

If an employee doesn’t have meetings or deadlines and wants to walk their dog for two hours in the middle of the day, let them do it. Your employee will live in a happier household if they can do their fair share of school pick-ups and attend school sports day.  

This approach gives employees happiness; it empowers them to take control of their work/life balance, which can lead to greater loyalty and in turn higher productivity. 

Adapt and evolve you package

Who you want to attract changes as hiring needs evolve. You should set a package that is a fit for who you're trying to attract now. But you also need to keep an eye on the future and your benefits package must be sustainable. 

A benefits package grows as your company does.

You know your business best

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by benefits being offered by competitors or big industry names. Focus on your own business. If you’re considering what you can provide employees, you’re working hard to create a great work environment. 

You know what makes your company a great place to work at. The benefits package is a way of highlighting and expanding it. 

Think about what benefits would excite you and what your employees will love. Look at your core values and build a package that compliments them. 

Are you an office with lots of family-orientated workers? Could a four-day week work well for you, so they have more family time? Great. Explore doing it. 

Do you have a team that loves to be social, and you want to attract more social people? Explore the idea of away days or simply monthly socials. 

Whatever your budget, a benefit idea can be scaled up or down. Make the benefit work for your business, your people and the people you want to attract. That’s the secret. 

Nicki Pritchard is a managing partner at executive search, interim and advisory firm Anderson Quigley, and leads all corporate, governance, EDI, operations and marketing activity.

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