It pays to be flexible

Why employers offering flexible benefit schemes win at attraction and retention

Unemployment is low and recruiting (and retaining) top talent is increasingly difficult. In this competitive climate the strongest candidates can cherry pick their roles and the onus is on employers to offer attractive terms.

In the past this might have meant offering a handsome salary and a comprehensive pension plan; perks not to be sneered at. But, when it comes to recruiting the best, successful employers know that it pays to be flexible with the packages you offer – by operating a policy of flexible benefits.

So, why do flexible benefit schemes work and how can they add value for you as an employer?

The challenge of standing out

When recruiting for certain positions, the chances are your core employment package isn’t going to be hugely different to that of other employers like you. You’re probably all offering similar money for similar skills and hours. And, with low unemployment in the UK, there is more temptation for candidates to shop around. The question is: why should your prospective (and current) employees choose you and not your competitors?

It’s a challenge that is particularly prevalent in sectors suffering acute skills shortages, like tech and hospitality for example. To get the highly skilled candidates looking your way, you need to go above and beyond.

A focus on millennials

In any discussion on flexible benefits, one generation of employees can’t be ignored – millennials. It could be argued that, with youth unemployment as high as it is, you shouldn’t need to focus so much on tailored benefits for young talent. However, we’re finding that millennials are prioritising other considerations over salary. Money is a factor, of course, but millennials are increasingly making job decisions based on the kind of perks and benefits that other employees might not have traditionally wanted — a free office bar, a reduced gym membership, shopping discounts or holiday vouchers are some prime examples.

How to build the perfect flexible benefits package

In order to attract and retain top talent, it makes sense to have a wide range of benefits on offer and allow candidates and employees to pick and choose those that suit them best. For many employers, this is a relatively new concept. Thinking about your employees as individuals with differing lives and priorities is a good place to start, and this can be reflected in the benefits you offer them. Some employees might want to start and finish their day later, but others might want to spend one day a week working from home, or stagger leave days to mean they have a series of long weekends. Some might want access to well-being services and fresh fruit; others might want a restaurant discount card. Some will value a generous maternity or paternity package. Others will be left cold by this benefit and see it as completely irrelevant to them.

The more you can manage to accommodate the specific needs of your employees through flexible benefit schemes, the more valued your employees will feel, and it will also give you the competitive edge in your recruiting.

Of course a bespoke benefits package for each employee might not be possible. There are limits; you’re not handing over a blank cheque, and as the CIPD points out; before introducing a scheme, it’s important to estimate the likely take-up of specific benefits. They also note that it’s important that employees’ choices, and the implications of these choices, are made clear. Despite this, it doesn’t hurt to have the initial conversation with employees to see what’s possible. A whole host of services are available to help you along with this – Perkbox, LifeWorks or Reward Gateway, are just some of the companies that assist employers in enhancing their benefits offering.

When should you offer flexible benefits?

Traditionally, flexible benefit schemes have been offered after an employee has proven themselves, almost as a reward. But the job market is fluid and great candidates in particular aren’t going to stay with you (or come to work with you) because you offer free health insurance after two years’ service. They want what appeals to them, and they want those things from day one.

Offering a flexible benefit scheme as part of your employment terms from the get go, and mentioning it in your recruitment campaigns and at interview stage, tells potential employees that you care about their happiness and wellbeing. When a candidate is weighing up all the considerations that influence where they want to work, this human touch could be decisive. It’s great news for your employer brand and helps boost staff retention too.

Essentially, flexible benefits can be a seriously useful recruitment and retention tool. If you are offering a unique and attractive flexible benefit scheme -something employees and candidates know they’re unlikely to find elsewhere — you’re giving them a very good reason to choose you. And that’s got to be worth the investment.

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