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9 alternative employee benefits to offer your staff

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Thinking about treating your staff but want to offer alternative employee benefits to the typical discounted gym membership and free tea and coffee perks?

Read this article to find out why you should offer employee benefits in the first place, which ones are mandatory to provide your staff with, and a list of different things you could offer to retain your team members and attract people to make your company a standout destination for new talent.

What are employee benefits?

Employee benefits are extra incentives provided by employers in addition to an employee’s salary or wages. They come in all shapes and sizes, from flexible working hours to pension schemes and free eye tests.

They are designed to increase employee satisfaction.

Although some benefits are legally required, others are offered as extra perks that are used to attract and retain staff. Every employee is entitled to so-called ‘core benefits’ that their company offers. However, more senior staff may sometimes have access to a larger benefits package.

While each company may vary their employee benefits, all UK workers are entitled to the following core benefits:

  • Workplace pension
  • Holiday allowance
  • Income protection

Workplace pension

As an employer, you can help your employees save for their retirement. In fact, you have a legal requirement to do so. You need to automatically enrol your eligible employees into a workplace pension and make contributions towards it. You can use payroll software to manage auto enrolment for your staff.

Holiday allowance

When it comes to holiday entitlement, almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year (known as statutory leave entitlement or annual leave).

This includes:

  • Agency workers
  • Workers with irregular hours
  • Workers on zero-hours contracts.

As an employer you can include bank holidays as part of statutory annual leave as well.

Income protection

Income protection offers a financial benefit and rehabilitation support if an employee is unable to work because of long-term illness or injury. To help manage sickness and its associated costs, group income protection can also be offered.

Once you have the core benefits in place for your staff, why not offer some alternatives?

Nine alternative employee benefits you could offer your staff

Flexible working
Giving your employees the option of flexible working could go down well

1. Flexible working

Working flexibly can be a real bonus for employees who need to work around family commitments (such as looking after an elderly relative or doing the school run) or have a doctor or dental appointment.

It is therefore no surprise that the option to work more flexibly topped a recent survey by Canada Life Group.

Out of the 1,002 full and part-time employees surveyed, 32% felt that flexible-working initiatives were the best way to attract and support older employees.

Claire Crompton, director at Bolton-based marketing agency The Audit Lab, shares her experience: “We strive to offer benefits that can actually improve our employees’ work/life balance.

“We offer 10am to 4pm working hours, flexibility with working from home, hangover days, six-month pay reviews and unlimited holidays. When we established The Audit Lab, we knew we wanted to create a workplace with a difference.

“And since implementing these employee benefits we’ve seen a 34% fall in sickness days.”

2. Pizza Fridays

Offering your employees free pizza in the run up to the weekend, at the end of a project, if they have to work late on a task, or on a special occasion, such as a staff member’s birthday, can go a long way to improving morale.

Vicki Field, HR director at London Doctors Clinic, says: “Benefits don’t always need to be expensive, but they can have an enormous impact on motivation and engagement.

“Making people feel valued is at the core of a good human strategy and benefits are an important aspect.

“Offering benefits which are of value to each type of employee is also important. Take into account your specific company and your employees, and be sure to engage with all of them.”

Unlimited holiday alternative employee benefits
Unlimited holiday could be a popular alternative employee benefit for your staff

3. Unlimited holidays

Unlimited paid holiday sounds too good to be true but it’s an increasingly common perk in the US. Silicon Valley firms such as Netflix, LinkedIn and job site Glassdoor all offer unlimited paid holiday.

In the UK, Sir Richard Branson introduced the policy in 2014 for Virgin Management, and this perk is gradually taking off in the UK. Between 2017 and 2018, Jobs board Reed saw a 20% increase in jobs that were offering unlimited paid leave.

Offering unlimited holidays for your staff could be great for work/life balance and the happiness of your employees. However, implementing it for your business may depend on how many people work for your company. You don’t want everyone on holiday at the same time…

4. Duvet days

Giving your employees the opportunity to take a day off, no questions asked, has been a rising trend in the workplace. A duvet day can allow your employees to recover perhaps from a night out or take a break following a busy period at work.

A survey conducted by furniture company Time 4 Sleep revealed that 61% of participants have taken a duvet day to recover from a hectic work schedule.

By offering duvet days as a benefit for your employees, you may find they can deter absenteeism and increase productivity, as well as extolling the virtues of cloud-based working.

Nadia Turan, executive creative director at software company Dam Digital, says she confidentially asked her employees what their needs and wants were in order of priority.

She says: “It turns out that they were more interested in flexible time and the environment that they were working in.

“As a direct result of starting this conversation, we implemented an unpaid leave policy so that everyone is entitled to take [or not take] a certain amount of days off, on top of their annual leave allowance.

“This was of significant importance for a number of our employees who like to travel. We, also promote flexible working and allow everyone to work from wherever they like, as long as communication is maintained and work is completed.

“We don’t have an attitude of presenteeism and appreciate life throws curveballs.”

Awards ceremony alternative employee benefits
Celebrate your staff with a company awards ceremony

5. Company awards

Celebrating the achievements of your employees is a good way to retain staff. Rather than just focusing on company parties, why not set up an annual awards night where you can reward your staff?

And if you have the budget, you could include cool prizes such as nights out, trips away and the latest gadgets.

Lizzie Benton from Liberty Mind says: “Hosting annual awards dinners is an effective alternative to lavish Christmas parties. These awards dinners should not just celebrate employees who have achieved great things at work but also in life.

“For many people, it can feel incredibly rewarding to be recognised for more than your role.”

6. Wellness retreats

Why not offer your staff a weekend or day away at a spa or wellness retreat? A whole day of yoga, Pilates, meditation and massages could help your team unwind and de-stress.

These initiatives have become increasingly popular. They also show that you care for the well-being and mental health of your employees.

Vicki Field at London Doctors Clinic says: “Companies have the opportunity to put in place other benefits that might involve enhancing the statutory benefit.

“They include a wellness programme which might include private medical insurance, access to a private GP, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or range of advice and support designed to help employees be and stay well.”

social clubs and football
Why not include football as one of your social clubs? Clubs can be a great way for your staff to enjoy shared interests

7. Social clubs

As part of an ongoing sports and well-being programme, you could offer staff the opportunity to join sports and/or social clubs at work. One company that does this is professional service firm Deloitte in Ireland.

Among the most popular is its running club, which has 80 members and meets 15 to 20 times a year to participate in group runs or events.

The football club enjoys a healthy membership of 52 staff, 20 of whom compete in the Deloitte Prague Cup, which is held in Prague each summer.

The skiing club, meanwhile, takes an annual trip to the Alps, most recently in February 2019, when 40 members attended.

Employees also have the opportunity to join a culture club, which provides theatre trips and outings to local food and drink events. These groups are an essential part of promoting positive social well-being and if you’re thinking about offering alternative employee benefits, they could be a great choice.

8. Extended new parent leave

Raising a young family can be stressful. Throw work commitments into the mix and things can be really tough. As an employer, you could look at offering extended parental leave for your staff.

An employee is entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is four weeks for each child (unless you as an employer agrees otherwise).

Before Theresa May stood down as prime minister in July 2019, she launched a consultation into extended parental leave to support fathers and same sex partners further, alongside those whose babies are born prematurely.

Pets at work alternative employee benefits
Bringing pets to work is an increasingly popular benefit

9. Pets at work day

Bringing your four-legged furry friend into work on a designated day or making use of the office pet can go a long way to help your staff. Taking a dog, cat or even hamster into the office can provide some lighthearted relief to the working day and alleviate stress too.

According to US finance news website Business Insider, pets in the office are a growing trend in the US and abroad. And it’s not uncommon to see office dogs mentioned when you look at meet the team pages on the websites of creative agencies in the UK.

Rather than having a meeting in the office, your employees could have a walking meeting – and take your pets for a walk in the process. Great for getting some fresh air and enjoying a change of scenery while getting work done.

Some final thoughts on alternative employee benefits

Almost 80% of employees want alternative benefits more than a pay rise, according to Glassdoor, which goes to show that you may have to think creatively to attract and retain high-calibre employees.

Jai Popat, head of HR and Recruitment at recruitment firm VHR, says: “Businesses should offer benefits because they make a real difference to the morale of teams. When looking for jobs, some people place more importance on the benefits than they do on the salary.

“Having an attractive benefit programme can increase the number and quality of candidates applying for roles with the company, and can help retain staff that otherwise might look for other jobs.

“These benefits can save employees money, improve their health or fitness, or make their lives easier. They can really help employees manage their work/life balance, and can even make them more productive while they’re at work.”

So take the time to think about the alternative employee benefits that you offer your staff and look at options that may appeal to them. Perhaps speak to your employees and see what they’d like to see in a benefits package, then work to create offers that would appeal to them and future employees.

Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune on alternative employee benefits for them to be effective. Having a few drinks and pizzas in the office at the end of the week or month could do wonders for the morale of your staff.