Focusing voluntary benefits to lure staff on the fringe of perks

A good voluntary benefits package lets employers reach segments of the workforce who may not actively be engaged with other perks, says Dev Raval, group head of reward, BSkyB.

How much focus do you give to your voluntary benefits or corporate discount programme? I’d guess in most organisations it ranks as a fairly low priority, as shown by the increasing number of employers that opt for an out-of-the-box solution provided by a third party. The thinking goes that a voluntary benefits programme is a standard thing most companies do, so tick that box by getting someone else to run it and then focus on the other stuff. If that is your thinking, I would ask you to reconsider.

A voluntary benefits package is the element of your benefits that you can most quickly and cost effectively customise to reflect your organisation’s values and priorities. For example, at Sky, we are very committed to green issues and were the first major media company to become carbon neutral in 2006. We changed business processes and products to enable this. But how do you reflect this through benefits? You could add a green fund to your pension scheme but how many people will that engage? We used our voluntary benefits package, Sky Benefits Extra, as another way to bring our environmental message to our people.

Hybrid fleets
We searched for companies making green products, such as home recycling aids, contacted them, arranged discounts and then took the message to our people. We also spoke to car manufacturers and were able to offer special deals on hybrid cars. These were communicated as part of our Bigger Picture environmental initiative. The Bigger Picture benefits reflect our commitment by making it easier and cheaper for employees to join in reducing carbon waste. They are also unique. How many of you have something similar? A good voluntary benefits package also lets you reach segments of your workforce who may not actively be engaged in your other benefits. How often can you use pensions or share plans to excite your people, for example? We used specific Sky Benefits Extra campaigns to create a buzz. A lot of our people like new technology and gadgets, so we have also focused on these. Through internal communication campaigns, such as using our intranet and creating on-site events, we created a lot of interest. Itπs hard getting a young, single person excited about a pension plan. But offer cheap, cool gadgets such as iPods and youπve got their attention.

HD-ready TVs
As an entertainment company, our own products give us a great way of adding to our voluntary benefits offering. We give all of our employees free Sky and when we launched our new high definition (HD) service in 2006, we also gave staff a significant discount on the price of a Sky HD box. Our people appreciated this but their feedback in advance to us had been that the bigger cost to them would be buying a new HD-ready TV. So, at the launch of our staff HD offer, we were able to offer significant discounts on HD-ready TV sets at the same time. This helped to get people more engaged with our HD launch.

These are just a couple of examples of how we used Sky Benefits Extra, our voluntary benefits package, to create interest and a buzz. This is the key advantage a customised scheme can provide. More traditional benefits may be more valuable but they can’t deliver the same excitement and they are often bulky tankers in comparison to a nippy voluntary benefits package.

So to get the most from your voluntary benefits package, consider several key questions. Firstly, can you make your package better reflect your organisation’s culture, priorities and values? Is it that different from someone else’s and, if not, should you make it more distinctive?

You should also ask: can your voluntary benefits package better support your organisation’s products or business with offers on complementary products or services? And, finally, which groups of staff can your voluntary benefits scheme engage better than your other benefits, and how are you going to reach these employees?