The best voluntary benefits schemes are engaging, user-friendly, adaptable, affordable and also deliver financial benefits for employers.
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- Voluntary benefits can boost benefits professionals’ spending power.
- But the scheme must support key business objectives.
- Benefits take-up data should be monitored to assess employee appeal.
Difficult economic times mean tough choices for organisations and, for many, adding voluntary benefits to enrich an existing core benefits plan makes good business sense, rather than either cutting back in other critical areas that may have an impact on services or losing key colleagues to other employers.
In the public sector, delivering voluntary benefits not only has a real impact on colleagues’ spending power, but it also contributes to a good work-life balance and makes a real difference when there are limited pay rises. Such benefits can be used as a magnet to attract and retain talent and, in our case, support our objective of being regarded as an employer of choice.
With around 7,000 employees working across a diverse range of functions, it has been essential for us to work closely with our provider, P&MM Employee Benefits, to find and develop an extensive choice and to give colleagues flexibility to select benefits that suit their individual circumstances. Employees simply will not be engaged and financial targets realised if the rewards do not appeal to them on a personal level.
Our ‘Works Perks’ voluntary benefits programme is a comprehensive lifestyle package, which includes employee discounts, childcare vouchers, annual leave purchase, cycle-to-work, mobile phones and transport discounts, among other benefits.
Supporting key business objectives
All these elements work to support key council objectives, which is essentail for any employer. And in an environment where HR and benefits departments are often having to achieve a lot more with less, creativity is vital to mitigate the impact of reducing budgets.
For example, the council is required to keep the scheme on a cost-neutral contract, which we manage by funding it with employer national insurance (NI) savings. Our annual leave purchase scheme, whereby staff can exchange salary for extra days of annual leave, has in itself generated more than £1.7 million in salary and NI savings for the council since 2011.
The tools that a provider can offer to support the communication of employee benefits are also vital. An integrated voluntary benefits website, coverage in internal magazines; displays on office plasma screens; intranet advertisements; and periodic ‘all colleague’ email bulletins can help to engage employees.
But ultimately, employers must ensure that their benefits appeal to staff, which they can monitor using benefits take-up data. More than 40% of the council’s workforce currently use its benefits, which was one of the many reasons why we were named winner of the best voluntary benefits category at the Employee Benefits Awards 2014.
Lynn Griffin-Pearce is a reward and retention consultant at Nottingham City Council