Flexible policy pays benefits for employers

The pleasures of a leisurely morning coffee in the confines of one’s own comfortable home contrast vividly with the stresses and turmoil of the morning crush. Increasingly extortionate fares on increasingly unsatisfactory public transport or traffic jams on roads which become more congested by the day leave employees frustrated and dissatisfied.

And those who feel that their needs are not being met once they make it into the office are increasingly looking at teleworking as an option.

According to Flexible Benefits: Taking Stock, a survey by Arthur Andersen’s Human Capital Services team, inflexible benefits at work can lead to employees going solo.

In a market already strapped for human capital, employers must provide incentives if they are to hold on to talented, exceptional, effective employees.

Retaining the best of the crop can be put down to luck – or a management board with a shrewd benefits strategy.

Satisfying employees’ desires is paramount in a competitive market and understanding employees’ changing needs contributes to the image of being seen as a leading edge employer.

While some firms only just provide the basics, others are keen to allow their employees to pick their own, in “cafeteria style”.

Flexible benefits can range from: company cars, pension schemes, medical insurance and buying additional days off, to luncheon vouchers, discount at particular high street stores, child care and leisure activities.

Employers who offer their employees flexible benefit packages realise that workers are individuals with differing wants and needs. More importantly, they realise they have choices and can go elsewhere: work for the competition or even become the competition.

Profits, shareholder value, improving the bottom line – these are the slogans that employers shout from the roof tops. Many place value on staff satisfaction. But when and where do they really act rather than shout?

Some firms are putting their money where their mouth is. According to the Arthur Andersen survey, 10 per cent of 289 firms surveyed are using Flex schemes. A number of these firms said that five years ago they chose to use flexible benefits schemes to help employee retention rates in the UK.

They realised that flexible benefits can increase retention rates and leave them with healthy profits and healthy, happy, satisfied employees.

But the number of firms operating such systems is still very low. The survey describes this 10 per cent as an embryonic response to flexible benefits policy in the UK.

Today, for those firms that have implemented a Flex scheme in the last year, the key drivers are understanding the changing needs of employees, followed closely by being seen as a leading edge employer. Employee retention is still seen as important.

Flex schemes were considered to be most relevant for the financial services sectors, but the survey found that manufacturing firms are the highest user of flexible benefit schemes, with 25 per cent implementing them.

This was followed by 14 per cent of retail firms, 14 per cent of commercial services and 3 per cent energy and telecoms and 10 per cent of financial services.

The report predicts that over the next two years, the number of firms introducing flexible benefit schemes will shoot up. Of those firms that have already introduced flexible benefit schemes, 55 per cent have done so over the past three years-firms interviewed believe that this trend will continue.

Of the firms surveyed that do not yet operate a Flex scheme, 34 per cent said that they are thinking of introducing one. Nearly all of those who have already done so believe that Flex has met their objectives, particularly as a tool to aid staff retention and recruitment. These firms believe that it has improved appreciation of benefits among employees and also increased employee satisfaction.

What has prevented firms from introducing new Flex schemes in the past is that they are difficult to administer. Just over 85 firms had previously rejected using Flex in the past, but the survey reveals that 59 per cent are considering introducing it over the next two years.

So flexible benefits are the way of the future in employee benefits.

If firms want efficient employees and competitive advantage that is the way to go. Improving benefits packages can make the difference between creating an indifferent, mediocre workforce, which will switch its loyalty at the drop of a hat, and one that feels its employer understand its needs and appreciates its hard work.

Copies of the Arthur Andersen report cost #300 and are available from Janice Golding on 0171 438 3532.

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