In the Limelight: Employee benefits 

September 8, 2016

The sizeable benefits Google offers its employees, or ‘Googlers’, has often garnered attention from the world’s media. Most of the time, the headlines evolve around the more unorthodox perks – such as nap pods, free massages, car washes and yoga classes, and unlimited (healthy) snacks – but Google also offers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave (US standard is six weeks) and should an employee die while working for the company, their spouse will receive half of their salary for ten years, and an additional $1000 a month for each of the Googler’s children.

According to the Google careers site, “many of our benefits programs and onsite amenities are aimed at supporting you and your loved one through life’s various stages”.

Other companies offering unusual benefits include: Twitter, which provides three meals a day, complimentary acupuncture and even improv classes to its workers; Airbnb, which gives £2000 to each employee a year for personal travel; Twillo, which gives staff a Kindle each and £30 a month to purchase books; and Asana, which provides free life-coaching lessons.

So why are these benefits that are focused on staff well-being seen as important?

Hamish Moore, chief executive of Wellbeing Works and senior partner at DrummondHR, reflects:

“Generation Y are increasingly asking the question, what is it like to work in that organisation and what will be the impact on my well-being?

“Secondly, people no longer expect to work for an organisation for a long period of time and will look at how an organisation fits with their personal set of requirements.”

US-based companies may be leading the way with their well-being benefits, but UK-based companies are beginning to respond.

Virgin made headlines back in September 2014 when it brought in unlimited holidays.

Writing on the Virgin website at the time, Sir Richard Branson said he was inspired by a similar plan adopted by online television firm Netflix, which he described as a “downright courageous initiative.”

He asked, “if nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual leave policies?” and then told his personal staff (170 employees) that it would be “left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100 per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!”.

But Sir Branson was not the first UK company to adopt unlimited holidays. Visualsoft, the e-commerce company headquartered in Stockton, brought in unlimited paid holidays after a management buy out in July 2014, alongside a suit of employee benefits developed by the new CEO Dean Benson and his head of HR, Emma Hart.

Dean explains: “We recognised that the e-commerce service sector was 24/7, 365 days a year and that we needed a workforce that could respond to this need.

“We brought in unlimited paid holidays alongside flexible working so people could serve our clients but also achieve a good work/life balance. To do this, we defined everyone’s role and gave them

individual KPIs [Key Performance Indicators]. This meant that people knew what the company’s expectations of them were and, crucially, they knew when their job was completed.”

Dean continues: “We are now over two years into the process and what we’ve found is that people still plan their main annual holidays where they save up and go away for a week or two, but it’s the flexible working part that’s made most of an impact. Staff no longer worry if it’s 8.55 in the morning and they’re still 15 minutes away from the office. If they have a doctor’s appointment or want to drop their kids off at school, that’s fine, too. As long as they fulfil their KPIs, they have this flexibility.”

Visualsoft also joins Google in offering a number of health-related benefits, with the Teesside company offering subsidised gym membership, free protein shakes, free eye tests and staff relaxation areas.

“We want to make sure that when staff are sitting at the desk, they feel happy and in a productive state of mind,” explains Dean. “We see health as crucial to this and there are a number of stories from within the company where people have used our subsidised gym membership and have completely changed their lifestyle as a result.”

He continues: “We have a phrase at Visualsoft: ‘happy staff, happy clients.’ When staff are in a genuinely happier and healthier state, the clients notice the vibe and the buzz. It’s hard to measure but everything just uplifts.”

In addition, Visualsoft has recognised the creative potential within its workforce. Initially, it created Time2Innovate, which has evolved into Innovation Labs, which allows staff to develop their own digital ideas. The latter has already spawned HiveHR – a new company that looks to offer ongoing online employee engagement surveys.

“We say that as long as you achieve your KPIs, you can dedicate as much time as you want to your own creations,” Dean explains.

Visualsoft has gone on to win multiple awards for its well-being programmes and is currently looking at additional benefits including in

the area of financial well-being (the firm recently adopted the popular childcare voucher scheme) and initiatives to ensure staff achieve better sleep.

And more employees are set to benefit from these perks as Visualsoft is currently in the middle of a 60-strong recruitment drive.

So does Dean think that people are attached to its employee benefits or are the main drivers still job role and salary?

“I think the employee benefits are a massive driver and a lot of people apply to Visualsoft because they’ve heard about the type of company we are and what we offer,” he responds.

“But you still need to have the skillset needed to fulfil a role. It’s important that people know why we do what we do and why we offer the benefits that we do. It’s about being successful for our clients and making sure we have the staff that can deliver above and beyond that they ask of us.”