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Experimenting with cost-effective perks and rewards

Perks and rewards
December 19 provides fitness trackers to encourage healthy living

Providing perks and rewards to employees can help create a happier, more motivated and united workforce. Be the Business spoke to three companies about what is offered – from office ski-trips to street parties, and from health monitors and pension provision.

At the beginning of 2017, media planning and buying agency December 19 signed up to the Mayor of London’s new Healthy Workplace Charter. Director Dave Barnett believed the directive, aimed at making workplaces in the capital healthier and happier, would be a spur to boost employee wellbeing.

“We were already conscious of the importance of promoting a healthy workplace, but by signing up to the charter we felt we could ramp up our offering,” he said.

As part of the health drive, December 19 decided to offer a new company perk – a free Fitbit for every employee and starter.

“I was using one and thought it would be a good idea to introduce it to the business,” Barnett explained. “We have a weekly Fitbit challenge to encourage our staff to be healthier and to get up from their desks. If you do a certain number of steps you can get a reward such as free cinema tickets. We also set the Fitbits to beep every 45 minutes if someone hasn’t moved. It means our staff get a bit of headspace away from the screens and leads to healthier minds as well as bodies.”

The Fitbit perk is one of a raft of perks and rewards December 19 provides as part of an overall business philosophy of “looking after the team”.

It has an annual paid “away day” to the French Alps where staff take part in activities such as mountain biking. “The trip isn’t linked to sales or profit targets. It is there to help build team relationships and for management to give something back,” Barnett added.

December 19 also offers flexible working hours to encourage women back into the workplace. This supports that fact that six of its 17 staff are working mums.

“Generally, we keep an eye on how many hours all our staff work,” said Barnett. “This industry traditionally involves long hours and working into the evening. We don’t want our staff to overstay their hours and be slogged to death just to increase profit margins.”

Future finances

Other rewards include a company pension scheme where it offers a five per cent matched contribution. “This raised a few eyebrows, as we were told an employer of our size should be offering one per cent. But we believe in business karma and ensuring our team is looked after.”

He contends that perks make staff happier and more motivated. “Some other owners think we are mad because these schemes do come at a cost. But we believe it is a necessary cost,” he commented. “It is hard to quantify the impact, but our job retention levels are very high, and we are getting more speculative CVs from talented people who have heard about our schemes. It also helps attract clients as they see we have happy staff and a good work-life balance.”

Ben Murry, head of marketing at office design group Peldon Rose, agrees that employers are increasingly keen to send “positive messages” to staff to combat intense competition for talent.

Offering a workplace environment which leads to happier and motivated staff, Murray outlined, is vital in this. “We design intelligent workspaces for clients, but we are currently carrying out a nine-month refurbishing project of our own at our Wimbledon office,” he explained. “We see it as a perk because people spend thousands of hours of their life in an office and so need it to really work for them. We have engaged with our staff in workshops and one-to-one meetings to find out what they need and want rather than what the management determines. What will make them happy and more productive?”

From these discussions, Murry said Peldon Rose’s employees will soon benefit from a new floor with a more varied workspace. “It is space to suit personality types and the work they do. Our technical drawing staff need areas of peace and quiet and big desk space to spread out their plans. The finance team can’t be located next to sales because it is introverts next to extroverts,” he explained. “Employees like to be listened to not just regarding their environment but other benefits. As an employer you need to be open to ideas they bring.”

Peldon Rose, in response to staff requests, has set up running and badminton clubs and installed bike racks and shower rooms in its office. “Staff play badminton at lunchtime at a local gym which we pay the membership for. They might take an hour and half away from their desks, but we don’t see that as wasted time. They are making valuable new connections and relationships with people from other departments as well as getting fit,” explained Murry. “The ideas come from the grassroots including one employee who suggested we hold a fish and chips street party to celebrate St George’s Day.”

Wimbledon
Strawberries and cream anyone?

Peldon Rose employees are also given the perk of paid-for tennis tickets at Wimbledon, alongside an annual ski trip. “The business pays for the travel and accommodation, but the employees pay it back either in one go or month by month. We organise it so it is affordable for everybody and cost effective for the business,” he added.

Like Barnett, Peldon Rose finds it difficult to quantify the difference good perks and rewards make. “However, when we interview potential recruits they mention that our package such as the ski trip makes us a more attractive employer. Our staff retention is very healthy, with a turnover rate below 15 per cent, and we get repeat business based on the strength of our team performance,” Murry said. “It also benefits productivity. In the first quarter of this year we have already packed in six months’ worth of projects and revenues.”

Tailored perks and rewards

Another firm with a progressive way of looking at perks and rewards is jet charter firm PrivateFly. For permanent staff it offers a pension, private healthcare, gym membership and childcare vouchers.

Carol Cork, co-founder, explained how these have changed since launching in March 2008. “We’ve always seen perks and rewards as very important, but what is a perfect perk for some people, won’t be as attractive to others. At the beginning when we only had a handful of employees, we were able to reward then in a very bespoke way. So, for music lovers we offered Spotify subscriptions, whereas someone else preferred a gym membership,” she said.

“As the team has grown, we’ve tried to keep this personalised feel, but have also increasingly recognised the importance of putting key major benefits in place, as these are often an important benchmark when people are weighing up job offers. We’ve become more process-driven in how we offer benefits too, including introducing clear qualification criteria. While Spotify subscriptions are still popular, we have now incorporated this and other options into a flexible program, where people can choose from a menu that suits them.”

Cork revealed some of the softer benefits such as regular lunchtime barbecues, nights out and bring your dog to work days are often the most effective.

While not all companies have access to jets, PrivateFly is making use of surplus stock

“We also recognise that many of our workforce are in their twenties and have moved cities or countries to work for us,” she added. “So, we reward that commitment with ways of helping them enjoy their life outside work. That includes shared access to our company cars in the evenings or at weekends, interest-free loans for bikes and access to private jet empty leg flights.”

Cork said having a “fun, passionate and inclusive workplace” helps attract and motivate employees. “The impact on motivation and productivity is not something we quantify scientifically at this stage, but we do have an employee retention rate of over 80 per cent.

“For companies considering a perks programme it’s important to have a wide offering that works for a diverse workforce. So, create a balance of major benefits, and a program of smaller, softer perks and rewards. There can be much more value in a small reward that hits the spot, than a big one that misses the mark.”

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