Molton Brown likes to pamper its staff, so its benefits are aimed at giving employees what they appreciate most, says Debbie Lovewell
Many employees think themselves lucky if they receive a card from their team mates on special occasions. But at cosmetics and beauty company Molton Brown, significant events in employees’ lives are something to be celebrated.
After three years’ service, all staff are permitted to take a day off to celebrate their birthday. On ‘big’ birthdays (21, 30, 40, 50 and 60), the company goes one step further and presents them with Molton Brown gift vouchers to the value of their age multiplied by 10. For example, a 21-year-old will receive £210 worth of vouchers, while a 60-year-old will get £600 worth.
Marriage is also a cause for celebration at the firm. After a year’s service, an employee will receive flowers and a monetary gift, and after three years they will also be granted an extra week’s holiday in the year they get married. Natalie Morgan, group HR and development director, explains why Molton Brown likes to pamper its staff in this way: “We are a predominantly female business, so we have a higher level of people who are getting married who have dress fittings, and so on. So we thought: what is it that people are asking more for?
Extra holiday for longer honeymoons
“This affects men as well, and they are entitled to it too. People are also going on longer honeymoons further afield, so we felt that in the year they got married, it would be nice to give them an extra week’s holiday in order to do those additional things.”
But rather than offering these treats to create a warm and fuzzy feeling, the company has solid business reasons for doing so. “Part of employee benefits and attracting people in this day and age is you have got to do something different,” says Morgan.
“Prospective employees can go onto a website, they can use Facebook or Twitter to find out all about you and what you offer. You have got to make your business stand out as an employer brand and it has got to be different from others. Being different does not necessarily mean you have to invest a great deal of money, you just need to look at what it is your employees would actually like, and what they would see as motivational.”
Morgan says helping the firm to differentiate its offering from competitors is key in the retail industry, which is known for high staff turnover and typically young workforce demographics. “Retailing is an interesting industry because we are probably all on a par with one another,” she says. “We take part in surveys every year with 20 to 30 other retailers, so we are well aware what they offer and they are well aware what we offer. What we try to do is, rather than comparing, doing something slightly different.”
Molton Brown positions itself as a lifestyle brand in consumer markets, and aims to apply similar principles to its benefits provision, supporting staff in their lifestyle choices. “We want to offer a range of benefits that actually help people with their life,” says Morgan. “It is not just about joining a business and saying ‘here are all the benefits’. It is about thinking what is beneficial to those employees from when they start, right the way through to when they retire.”
Helping staff at different life stages
One way it achieves this is by helping staff at different life stages, for example in the run-up to retirement. To help staff make the transition between their working life and retirement, Molton Brown introduced retirement planning seminars for staff last year. “Before, we had not had people who had been with us for 20-odd years who were retiring,” says Morgan.
“We wanted to do this at least six months to a year before they retired, so they could start to make plans, not just for a personal lifestyle change, but also for a financial change. For example, where were they going to invest their money, and what were they going to do with their pension? All of those things they need to be aware of.”
This isn’t the only change Molton Brown has made around employees’ retirement provision in recent years. In April 2008, it introduced its first pension scheme for staff. “For me, it was one of the last major benefits we did not have,” says Morgan. “It had been difficult for us to have a pension scheme when we were smaller, so it was something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Finally, we were able to do it.”
The result was the introduction of a group personal pension (GPP) plan, carried out in conjunction with Jelf Employee Benefits. Staff must contribute a minimum of 3% of salary, which can be done via a salary sacrifice arrangement. Molton Brown will also pay in 3%.
So far, 144 of its 674 UK employees have opted to join the scheme. “We have been very pleased with the take-up rate,” says Morgan. “There have been departments where everyone has joined. For us, it is about having that option for people to be in the pension scheme. It is about looking after someone.
“The pension scheme has been really beneficial for us as a business. I think it was that missing link in terms of attracting people and retaining people, particularly those who were already in their careers and had pensions elsewhere. It is difficult if you do not have that added benefit.”
Morgan attributes much of the scheme’s success to its communication. A large part of this is face-to-face communication sessions at each of Molton Brown’s sites, including its retail stores, which are carried out by representatives from Jelf Employee Benefits.
No complacency about benefits
But Morgan is adamant the company must not become complacent about its benefits. To ensure this does not happen, she regularly reviews the benefits offering. “You cannot stand still with benefits,” she says. “In terms of Molton Brown, what we try to do is make sure we are offering benefits that are right for employees. That is what they should be about. Not just about attracting people to the business, but also making sure you are looking after people. That is my philosophy and Molton Brown’s philosophy.”
“It is also about trying to do something slightly different and not being afraid to change. If something does not work, it does not work. If a benefit you launched years ago now is not what everyone wants, that is fine: look at doing something different.
“You have got to consistently review what you have got, although that can be hard when times are challenging.”
This approach enables the company to respond to external developments affecting reward, such as the tax changes relating to high-earning employees. To assist this group, Molton Brown held several bespoke financial education and planning sessions for senior employees, and is now looking to roll these out further.
Voluntary benefits revamped
Other changes this year have included a revamp of the company’s voluntary benefits scheme. Morgan says its previous offering, branded Health, Work and Happiness, had become outdated and uncompetitive, so was no longer valued by staff. Its new scheme, Savings Through Work, which is provided by AWD Chase de Vere, offers an updated range of discounted products and services for staff, including health insurance, dental care, gym membership and horse racing days. “That is not a major change in terms of big benefits, but employees love it,” says Morgan.
Last year, the company took steps to gauge employee satisfaction with its benefits provision through a staff survey run by its Japanese parent company, Kao Corporation, in conjunction with Hay Group.
“Part of the survey is on reward and recognition, and one of the [statements to respond to] is ‘My company has a good employee benefits plan’,” says Morgan. “We then received the information which gives us the benchmark against the UK norm and we were 4% above the UK norm, which is pretty good. The challenge will be staying there when we come to do it again.”
Morgan says 84% of respondents agreed that Molton Brown provides a good employee benefits programme.
Achieving such employee engagement is vital to the company as it continues to grow globally, she adds. “That is very important to us because although we are now a much bigger business and a global business, we still want to have our culture and identity, which is very important. If an employee feels valued, the more motivated they are and they will go the extra mile.”
It just goes to show: it is often the small things and attention to detail that can make the biggest difference.
Molton Brown at a glance
Molton Brown began life in 1973 as a hair salon on South Molton Street in London’s Mayfair. In keeping with the salon’s focus on natural beauty, one of its co-founders began making cosmetic and beauty products within the store. Molton Brown’s first retail products were hand-mixed from camomile and nettles.
By the 1980s, it had moved away from hairdressing to focus on plant-based make-up, hair, body, skin and grooming products. The business now supplies stores, airlines and hotels across the world.
In 2005, Molton Brown was acquired by Japanese cosmetics firm Kao Corporation from private equity firm Bridgepoint, which had bought a majority stake in the business in 2003.
It now has a presence in 53 countries and employs over 800 staff worldwide: in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Singapore, Japan, Australia and the USA.
Career history: Natalie Morgan
Natalie Morgan, group HR and development director, has worked for Molton Brown for 12 years. She joined from fashion retailer the Alexon Group, where she was head of HR.
However, Morgan began her career on the operational and sales side of retail, which fuelled her desire to remain in the sector even after moving into HR. “I started in retailing with Scholl, the footwear company,” she says. “I very much enjoyed the operational side and the sales side, which is why I still work in HR in a retailer because I could not imagine working in any other environment. I like the sales, the buzz, the fast pace.”
Morgan made the move from sales into HR when she left Scholl to join brass fittings retailer Knobs and Knockers. “I joined it in an operational retail role, but had an opportunity to move into HR,” she says. “I had wanted to do that at Scholl, but it was difficult circumstances at the time, so when I joined Knobs and Knockers I moved into a HR role and qualified at the same time. I think I was very lucky that I had opportunities where I was able to be in an HR role in a retail environment.”
Case study: Seduced by Molton Brown products
Jon Graham, retail controller international at Molton Brown, has worked for the company for two years. He is responsible for managing part of its international business, covering long-haul locations such as Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore and the US.
He values the benefits he receives from Molton Brown, especially those that are unique to the beauty firm. “I think Molton Brown is quite generous in what it does,” he says. “I have worked in a lot of companies where the benefits have not been so great. The biggest thing is probably [Molton Brown’s] products. I have been seduced by the products and the brand as much as my wife has, so the allocation we get every three months is fantastic and, of course, we get a 50% discount.”
Graham has also found the company’s childcare voucher scheme useful. “It makes a real difference, particularly the fact that there is a sophisticated system to cope with it,” he says. “I have benefited from that over the last two years. I have now stopped paying for that as my last child is going into schooling, but it was a real help.”
He also values many of the other benefits Molton Brown offers. “I think the employee support programme, although I have not used it, is a good outlet for people,” he says. “The recommend-a-friend scheme is also very generous. After a year’s service, you get £500, so that is a big plus.
“Molton Brown goes out of its way to make you feel comfortable and valued. From an HR and culture perspective, the door is never closed. Although you do not get everything you ask for, you get listened to, which is really important. It is a nice environment to work in.”
Molton Brown’s benefits
- Group personal pension (GPP) plan open to all staff after six months’ service. If they contribute a minimum of 3% of salary, the company will match it with a maximum of 3%.
- Private medical insurance for senior employees.
- Group income protection.
- Employee assistance programme.
- Range of discounts available on products such as dental insurance and gym membership.
- Childcare vouchers.
- Workplace giving scheme.
- 25 days plus eight bank holidays as standard.
- An extra week’s holiday in the year an employee gets married.
- A day off for the employee’s birthday.
- Enhanced maternity and paternity pay.
- 50% discount on Molton Brown products.
- Quarterly allowance of 20 Molton Brown products.
- Molton Brown gift vouchers to celebrate significant birthdays, for example, 21, 30, 40, 50 and 60.
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