Need to know:
- Pre-launch communications can help build momentum around company car schemes.
- A comprehensive, sustained communications strategy can drive continued engagement with cars as a benefit.
- Tailored communications can ensure that all staff are aware of company car schemes and the value they can provide.
Offering employees access to a car through their benefits package can serve as a compelling attraction and retention tool, but if staff are to realise the full value of the benefit then car schemes must be communicated appropriately.
Engaging staff ahead of the introduction of a scheme, whether through employee surveys or a pre-launch communications campaign, can help to build anticipation and lay the groundwork for the official launch and future communications. Gary Hull, executive director, people advisory services at EY, says: “It’s important that it’s not just about the big launch and that’s it. It should also be about the preamble to build expectation, and then not letting that fall away immediately afterwards.”
When Danone launched its salary sacrifice car scheme in October 2015, it worked with provider Leaseplan to host on-site roadshows to engage staff with the new benefit. The events showcased a selection of the cars available and gave employees the opportunity to learn more about the car salary sacrifice arrangement, which runs alongside Danone’s existing company car plan.
The roadshow was preceded by a range of communications delivered through the organisation’s internal channels, such as its intranet site and desk drops. John Mayor, head of UK rewards at Danone, says: “It was very much an engagement piece that people were talking about.”
Indeed, word of mouth has played an important role in driving take-up; a significant number of the orders placed thus far have been made by employees at the same site, where the delivery of cars through the scheme has continued to generate interest.
A tailored approach
Employers can utilise a range of communication methods to highlight car schemes to staff, but these should take into account workforce demographics in order to reach all employees in an effective manner. “We had to be very site specific,” says Danone’s Mayor.
In partnership with its car salary sacrifice scheme provider, the organisation used onsite communications to engage employees at its Liverpool production facility, which has a largely offline population that carries out shift work. “We engaged that particular group of [employees] during their break periods throughout the shift patterns, and we also put literature in the canteen area,” explains Mayor.
However, it is not just the communication channels that need to be considered, it is also the messaging. For example, many employees in central London commute to work via public transport, so the focus of communications aimed at London-based workforces may need to be tailored in order to convey the potential value that a car scheme can provide to them.
A sustained communications strategy can help to ensure employee engagement with company car schemes continues post-launch. Developing a regular communications plan can be one of the biggest challenges but also one of the biggest areas of opportunity for providers and employers, says Jonathan Smith, relationship director at leasing and fleet management firm Zenith.
“Not everybody wants a car on day one of the scheme, but if an employee’s car breaks down 12 months after the scheme has launched and they are looking for a new one, then you want them to remember that their employer offers a car scheme,” he explains. “Unless you are constantly communicating that message then an employee might go directly to a dealer first rather than thinking to look at the cars available through their benefits package.”
Hull adds: “You need to engage and re-engage. Cars are probably one of the better benefits for re-engaging employees because of the special offers available.”
This could include offers such as ‘car of the month’, which is one of the ways by which Danone highlights its car scheme to staff. Employers could also promote car schemes at certain milestones throughout an employee’s career, such as the successful completion of professional exams, says Hull.
Arup’s employee benefit offering includes a green car scheme, provided by Hitachi Capital, which it reinforces on a regular basis, says Evan Davidge, head of reward at Arup. In addition to directing employees to the scheme via its annual total reward statement, details are also included on the online total reward statement for candidates when they are offered a role at the organisation, and new starters are given a brochure about the scheme upon arrival.
Alignment with business values
The introduction of the green car scheme at Arup formed part of a wider UK benefits review, which aimed to ensure that the benefits provided reflected the requirements of all employees. The scheme is also in line with the firm’s core values, says Davidge: “It fulfils one of our corporate aims of shaping a better world, and our corporate social sustainability [values].”
Before introducing the scheme Arup engaged with staff by conducting a dedicated survey to gain a fuller understanding of employees’ attitudes and perceptions around cars, such as the type of vehicle they had, whether they intended to replace that car, and whether they were looking for a supplementary vehicle. “Interestingly, we discovered that for the people who had a particular interest in this scheme, this would reduce their carbon footprint,” says Davidge.
By capping the CO2 emission levels of cars available through the scheme at 120g/km, Arup could engage staff with its sustainability agenda and communicate the environmental benefits of replacing older cars with newer, greener models. The organisation has achieved substantial take-up levels thus far, with interest across the whole demographic profile of its workforce, says Davidge.
Company car schemes can provide cost savings for employees, whether through corporate discounts or, as in the case of salary sacrifice arrangements, through savings on tax and national insurance contributions. They also often include elements such as maintenance and servicing, which can reduce the everyday costs of running a car.
Clear communication about the added value inherent in company car schemes can help employees to differentiate between the cars available through their benefits package and retail deals. “Even though it’s a corporate lease, it’s a retail product and employees will always compare it to [commercial deals],” says Zenith’s Smith.
Communication can also be utilised to increase employees’ understanding of how a scheme works, such as what would happen if they were to leave their organisation, or that cars obtained through salary sacrifice arrangements will be liable for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax.
Toby Poston, director of communications and external relations at the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), says: “[Education] is the most difficult part of the communication; are [employees] fully aware of the implications, have they read the small print, do they know about the effect on take-home pay, do they understand the full BIK implications, and can they afford it?”
Providing an easy-to-read, engaging document that outlines the key facts about how company car schemes and salary sacrifice work, as well as the costs and any potential charges, can help to enhance understanding, says Smith. “The key facts document has worked really well for us in terms of generating communication and awareness of what it is that people are entering into,” he adds.
A comprehensive communications approach that continues to engage staff and highlights the value of cars as a benefit, while also ensuring they are aware of how schemes function, empowers employees to make an informed choice. As Kathryn Batchelor, manager, employment tax technology, tax and people services at KPMG, says: “Ultimately it’s a choice, people can participate in the scheme or not. But if you want to be an employer of choice going forward, employees are going to expect to have access to a car as standard.”