TalkTalk Group is keen to give its employees better value through its ways of working and its suite of benefits.
A key element of the telecommunications provider’s benefits strategy is that employees receive benefits that are perceived to be worthwhile and of value. Sam Kirk, reward director, explains that this echoes its corporate strategy. TalkTalk has five organisational values, branded its ‘Brighter Basics’, which include value, innovate, people, community and customer. “For me, it’s asking our employees what they want and making sure we’re delivering the best thing for them,” she says. “It’s about taking a more holistic view, not just, ‘here, have some cash’. We have our [flexible benefits scheme], My Benefits, and a huge suite of voluntary benefits that employees can purchase themselves.”
TalkTalk uses its own products to create engagement among employees with both the benefits and the business. “We obviously want to retain our people, and we want to give them good value so we want to deliver benefits for them that are cheaper for us to procure than [staff] would be able to procure on the open market,” says Kirk. “We want people to be using our products so we give all of our employees free television, free broadband, and 50% off TalkTalk Mobile and fibre [optic broadband]. We really think that our employees being advocates for our products is the best way to sell our products.”
It is this benefits design that formed part of the strategy that won TalkTalk the Employee Benefits Awards 2015 for ‘Most engaging benefits package’, in recognition of the way in which it has used benefits to engage employees within the organisation.
As a telecoms company, TalkTalk does not shy away from encouraging employee feedback and communicating to staff about its reward and benefits provision. This was nowhere more evident than in the huge terms and conditions harmonisation programme it went through in 2011-12.
Kirk explains that for the 18-month-long project to be a success, it was vital to include employees in the process. “We went through a three-month voluntary sign-up process for each of our employees; we were really open at the outset around why we were doing it, why we wanted people to come on this journey with us, why we thought it was important for everyone to be on the same terms and conditions, and benefits, and how we were implementing this new structure.”
Prior to the harmonisation, TalkTalk had 2,500 UK employees with around 1,600 different terms and conditions because the organisation had grown massively through acquisition. The project created a new benefits package and a new banding structure to give employees a line of sight of where they sat within the organisation. “Historically, if an employee was asked who they work for, they would have said Carphone, Opal or Tiscali, or one of the acquisitions,” says Kirk. ”Whereas now they’ll say they work for TalkTalk.”
The key to achieving harmonisation for all employees was to be open and honest with staff and to involve them in the process. “When we were designing our benefits package, we engaged with our employee forums and did focus groups with our [employee] representatives,” Kirk says.
As part of the project, TalkTalk revamped many of its policies, and created its new Ways of Working, ‘Wow factors’. These introduced an improved sabbaticals programme, whereby staff are able to have their bonus or part of their salary paid over the course of the sabbatical, as well as volunteering policies, and giving staff more flexibility by introducing home working options, secondments and core working hours of 10am to 4pm.
TalkTalk, perhaps obviously considering the focus of the business, has a very online culture in terms of staff communication. It uses its intranet site and every employee has their own blog page. The reward team frequently blogs about benefits, particularly around renewal times, for example.
It also holds roadshows every year when it is going through its benefits election so that employees can talk to providers. But a key area of focus for the coming months is to look at how to target specific benefits to specific groups of people. Kirk says: “We’re looking at how we can better target [benefits] so that we can get the best take-up, and also so that we’re delivering the right messages to people.”
Working with its benefits consultancy Capita Employee Benefits, the reward team is looking at the generational splits in the organisation, for example, whether the majority of employees are married or single, and what the typical benefits choices are that those demographics of people select. “When we do our benefits relaunch in March or April next year, we’ll target specific benefits at specific groups so that when we’re communicating benefits throughout the year, we’re not targeting at-retirement benefits to people who are 25,” says Kirk.
With the new pension freedoms, which came into effect in April 2015, TalkTalk provides employees with information about the choices available to them. “I think there’s a big piece around the new at-retirement options for people, and how do we make sure that people that fall into that 55-plus bracket really and truly understand what’s available to them, but also what are the pitfalls of drawing down on their pension early,” says Kirk.
The organisation will also run seminars in conjunction with both Capita and its pension provider to help increase awareness among employees.
Health and wellbeing focus
TalkTalk also has a pensions governance committee, as well as operating a benefits governance committee that continually reviews the benefits and strategy for the year.
The next project for Kirk and the reward team is a focus on employee wellbeing. TalkTalk is proactive in its approach in that it does not have an issue with wellbeing, but rather is looking to repackage its existing benefits in order to promote services to staff. Kirk explains: “We have lots that we offer to our people, but we don’t necessarily badge it as wellbeing. We have a really good private medical insurance [PMI] scheme, a really good employee assistance programme [EAP] and occupational health. For my team, it’s about trying to be a bit clever with the data that we’ve got [from those schemes] without spending lots of cash on a wellbeing programme that people don’t want; it’s about using what we’ve got but promoting it.”
Although the organisation has been through a long period of change and harmonisation, TalkTalk recognises that providing a valuable employee benefits strategy requires perpetual attention, and is looking at how communications can help get that message to employees in the coming year.
Sam Kirk joined Carphone Warehouse in 2005 as a human resources generalist, and when the business acquired AOL in 2007, she moved there to set up the HR team. Following this, Kirk worked on a job evaluation project in Carphone Warehouse before it split internally into the retail and telecoms businesses. Kirk then took on the role of reward manager, subsequently progressing to reward director. Kirk says: “In TalkTalk, HR is really seen as a value-add function; we tend to be brought to the table at the outset to really drive the strategy. We’re seen as people that help to drive the business forward, which is a great place to be because you can see the differences you make.”
TalkTalk at a glance
Telecoms organisation TalkTalk began as part of the Carphone Warehouse Group and grew through a series of acquisitions, starting with Opal Telecoms, a fixed-line, voice telecommunications network provider, in 2002. Among other acquisitions, TalkTalk bought AOL’s UK broadband business in 2007 and Tiscali in 2009. It demerged from Carphone Warehouse in 2010, and launched TalkTalk Mobile in 2012. Its current focus is on streamlining its systems and processes in order to improve customer service.
Business objectives impacting benefits:
- To give employees good-value benefits that offer a wide choice.
- To deliver benefits that are cheaper for the business to procure than it would be for staff to procure on the open market.
- To continue to use benefits as part of the talent attraction and retention strategy.
The benefits offered by TalkTalk
- Defined contribution (DC) pension scheme, a group personal pension (GPP) for all employees.
- Staff contribute a minimum of 2.5% to receive a 5% employer contribution.
Healthcare and wellbeing:
- Private medical insurance (PMI). The executive committee and senior management bands receive free family cover; all other employees have single-person cover with the option to add family members or change cover limits through its flexible benefits scheme.
- Voluntary dental scheme for all employees.
- Eyecare voucher scheme.
- Employee assistance programme.
- Income protection (also known as permanent health insurance) with a five-year limited term for all employees.
- Critical illness insurance as a voluntary benefit.
Employee share schemes:
- Sharesave scheme.
- Share incentive plan.
Company car or cash for car option:
- Company cars and car allowances for senior positions or as the role requires.
- Flexible working.
- Additional maternity and paternity leave.
- Sabbatical policy.
- Great getaway: all-employee family fun day.
- 25 days minimum, rising to 30 days with 10 years’ service. Employees can buy up to five days’ holiday each year through flex.
Voluntary benefits scheme:
- Employee discount scheme.
- Subsidised canteens on main sites.
- Subsidised cafe in main office.
Sports and social clubs:
- Social committee on each site.
- Sports clubs such as football teams and walking clubs.
Incentive pay/performance-related pay:
- All employees have some element of variable pay.
- Living wage-committed employer.
- Travel loans.
- Hardship loans.