Perks of the job
Employers are finding innovative ways to keep their workforce happy reports Nick Huber.
Remember when you were lucky if your employer offered you a loan for a season ticket for the work commute? Employee benefits are changing and becoming more varied. Now some employees are getting unlimited holidays, salary advances and even help towards the cost of surrogacy. Employers hope that these perks will help them recruit and retain the best workers and improve productivity and workforce morale.
Almost nine in 10 UK employers say they will need to change their benefits to meet the needs of future generations, according to research by AON, a professional services firm that advises on “risk, retirement and health”.
Half of employers questioned for Aon’s Benefits and Trends Survey 2019 also said that current benefits for their staff do not meet the needs of all generations. Employers surveyed said employee expectations for benefits are changing. Common demands include more flexible working hours, home working, more support for mental health, more support for parents, and more awareness and action on “diversity and inclusion”.
Accounting firms could be doing far more to help their employees’ mental wellbeing, other research suggests. The study by Westfield Health found that 74% of employees in the UK accountancy sector believe their employer isn’t doing enough to help them deal with work-related stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Gamification of benefits
Employee benefit schemes, advertised on company intranet sites, are often dull but worthy. Mobile apps, “smart watches” such as Fitbits, and retail reward schemes are making them more fun and accessible.
Perks are something that people look for when they’re considering companies to send their CVs to
Nearly one in two UK employers offer their staff a “gamified” reward system, according to recent research by rewards specialist One4all.
Yulife − a start-up that supplies life insurance accompanied by wellbeing apps for employees – is part of the trend. Employees who do healthy things such as walking and meditating are rewarded with virtual coins that can be exchanged for air miles and gift cards from brands including Amazon and ASOS.
“Perks are something that people look for when they’re considering companies to send their CVs to,” says Annie Butt, HR and Office Manager at L Marks.
“It’s something great to have on the job description when you’re advertising a job, that you’ve got these extra perks at the company.”
However, Mike Blake, Director of Health and Benefits GB of insurance broker Willis Towers Watson, says that although gamification can “nudge” employees into being healthier, it can have drawbacks. “It is understandable that companies, particularly those that are frustrated at a lack of engagement, are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees,” he says.
“But worker wellbeing should be a shared priority for both employee and employer, not seen as additional workload that workers should be compensated for.”
Many accountancy practices offer employees a health or wellness benefits package
Despite the high number of employees calling for financial incentives, UK employers should learn lessons from the US, where employers are realising that they are not an effective way to bring about sustainable change in health behaviour, Blake says.
Alex Allen is Head of Public Practice at iMultiply, a recruitment company that specialises in finance and executive search. Many of the accountancy practices he works with offer employees a health or wellness benefits package, which can include health insurance or funds made available for health and wellness activities.
iMultiply itself has introduced an annual personal £200 wellness fund for its staff, which they can spend on improving their health and wellbeing, for example through personal training, weight loss, therapy or learning new skills, such as cooking or photography.
Family leave is becoming more diverse
Most accounting firms have introduced flexible working, although few have gone as far as PwC, which allows new recruits to pick their own hours as long as they get their work done.
Other accounting firms are offering employees “term time leave” if they want to use annual leave during school holidays, Randles says.
“Family leave is becoming more… diverse, including additional support with maternity, adoption, surrogacy, paternity, and shared parental leave, with firms offering up to 52 weeks,” she adds.
Job interviews are also becoming more flexible. Alex Allen says: “We can point to several examples where candidates have obtained a new position exclusively through Skype interviews – especially when the candidate is located overseas.
"The more common scenario is that a first stage interview is conducted over Skype so both parties can ascertain if it is worth committing time and resources to a face-to-face meeting which may require travel."
Almost one third (31%) of young UK workers aged between 18 to 34 believe that fertility benefits, such as egg freezing or subsidised IVF, should be offered by employers, according to research by Willis Towers Watson.
Almost half (47%) of these workers cited the high cost of private treatment as the biggest reason for this, followed by restricted NHS treatment.
This kind of support is already provided by an increasing number of employers in the US but in the UK it’s very limited, says Blake. “While companies may appear forward-thinking and supportive by offering fertility treatments, employers should tread carefully to avoid a backlash,” says Blake.
Almost one in four UK workers said that if their employer were to offer egg freezing as a benefit, they would view this as a selfish attempt to retain talent for longer, Blake adds.
In the first quarter of this year, the number of people over 70 still in work hit a peak of 497,946 – an increase of 135% since 2009, Blake says, citing figures from the Office for National Statistics. In many cases, the professional and personal commitments of older employees, and their health and wellbeing requirements, will differ notably from younger staff.
Younger workers are the “most stressed, most health conscious, and the most financially strained of the working generations”.
According to research by Willis Towers Watson, three quarters (74%) of baby boomers chose pension schemes as their most valued benefit, followed by health insurance (48%). The study highlighted that older workers are more at risk than their younger colleagues of suffering from chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.
Younger workers are the “most stressed, most health conscious, and the most financially strained of the working generations”. They are also far more likely to suffer financial, job, health and relationship stress than their older colleagues.
The insurance broker’s research found that more employers are appointing “mental health champions” – workers who are trained in mental first aid. Younger workers are more likely to use “telemedicine” – using wearable devices, videoconferencing and online technology to make diagnoses remotely.
Talent is one of the three key issues for The CA Agenda initiative, the others being Technology and Trust. For more information on The CA Agenda, check out our thought leadership section.