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Is it time to get creative with your benefits?

Laura Johnson

From freezing eggs to unlimited holidays, Laura Johnson discusses some of the wacky and wonderful employee perks that companies are offering

Technology companies are known for their wacky employee perks. On-site bowling alleys, napping pods, gaming centres, pet-friendly offices, gourmet staff cafes – we’ve all heard the legends of Silicon Valley. In recent years it feels like incentivising the employees of some of the world’s biggest companies has been all about novelty ideas that invite a little fun and indulgence into the workplace. Until now. The latest outlandish staff benefits to hit the headlines have a more serious work-life balance edge. 

First up, Virgin has stepped forward and followed Netflix’s lead by allowing all salaried staff to take holiday whenever they want for as long as they want. “It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off,” says Richard Branson in Virgin’s public announcement about the policy. “The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!” It’s a move that’s a clear example of the emergence of the non-policy (or the policy-that-isn't as Branson describes it) where companies experiment with handing back control of work-life balance to their employees. 

Eccentric employee perks

But there are certain work-life balance issues none of us can control without limits - like starting a family, right? Wrong. Facebook and Apple are attempting to remove the shackles of an ever-ticking biological clock from their ambitious female employees by offering up to $20,000 (£12,600) to help female employees freeze their eggs. This allows their female talent to concentrate on pursuing their career goals without the worry of missing the window of opportunity to procreate. It’s perhaps the most extreme measure taken to date by companies striving to create an equal workplace for women.
   
Now, most of you are probably thinking, “nice ideas, but this just wouldn’t work for my company.” And you’re probably right. The more eccentric benefits offered by these employers aren’t a realistic match (or financially viable) for most workplaces. But this doesn’t mean you can completely dismiss introducing more alternative employee benefits of your own. Employee retention is a big issue. The years immediately following the peak of the recession were characterised by low employee quit rates; most people were just grateful to have a job and escape redundancy. However, as the economy has stabilised and even shown hints of improvement, employees are once again becoming more discerning about the organisations they choose to work for. The competition for talent is heating up.

Health cover, salary sacrifice holiday options, a long service bonus, a generous pension, gym membership and a company car have become standard benefits in many sectors. They’re almost expected. To prevent your very best talent straying to a competitor, you may need to get creative with your reward packages.

Snowboarding to family time off 

For example, at snowboard brand Burton, in addition to standard employee benefits they offer a range of ‘perks and other fun stuff’. This includes a free season lift passes to their local mountain, a strict ‘we close our doors if it snows two feet in 24 hours’ policy and flexible schedules designed to allow employees to fit all-important snowboarding time into their days. These benefits clearly aren’t selected randomly but specifically designed to attract and retain employees that share their (and their customers’) enthusiasm for snowsports.

In a similar vein, toy manufacturer, Mattel shows its dedication to children and family life by offering employees 16 hours of paid time off for school-related absences like parent-teacher conferences or field trips. This family-friendly perk is not only designed to improve employee happiness but also undoubtedly to fuel new ideas by allowing employees to connect with the needs of their target audience.

So it seems the secret to coming up with an irresistible benefits package isn’t to come up with something weird for the sake of it, or adopting an off-the-shelf package that seems to have worked wonders for a competitor. Instead, the most enlightened employers offer distinctive benefits that complement their own individual brand and are focused on retaining those employees that share their vision, values and priorities. Developing an effective rewards package need not cost a fortune but it may take investment of another type – some time and effort dedicated to some serious soul-searching and creative thinking. Are you up for the benefits challenge?

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