Employee benefits: perks and troughs

I knew that one of the critical elements that would contribute to achieving
the benefits of Grant Thornton’s merger with Robson Rhodes was getting teams
from both legacy firms feeling that they were part of a new Grant Thornton post

A key area was reviewing our reward offering. Everyone knew it was essential
to bring our people together under a new consistent set of terms and conditions
as soon as possible. We wanted to create a package that demonstrated our
commitment to our people on a commercially sustainable basis. This was an
opportunity to remind everyone of our significant commitment to learning and
development. Grant Thornton is one of the few firms that has retained a
residential training centre. And our enhanced flexible working which everyone
has the right to request – encouraging people to think about what they deliver
rather than the hours they put in.

Providing a top class reward offering for our 4,200 employees in a very short
time frame was an exciting challenge for those involved and the team really did
pull out all the stops.

So what did it involve? As any good auditor knows (I confess this is my alma
mater) planning is the starting point for any job.

We began by finding out what our people really valued through employee
research and focus groups.

We conducted an online survey of all 4,200 employees, then held 26 focus
groups involving 200 employees across six different offices. Finally, we held
consultations with employees via the firm’s information and consultation forum.

All surveys were available to all our people and focus groups involved staff
at all levels.
Feedback indicated that our people wanted:

  • changes to our core benefits offering; including enhanced pension
    contributions, updating of our maternity and paternity pay and the provision of
    private medical cover for all;
  • a range of other benefits that they could choose to suit their lifestyle
    rather than a ‘one size’ fits all. Requests included dental cover, income
    protection, discounted gym membership, travel insurance and a bike-leasing
  • more flexibility around taking time off; while we already made wide use of
    time off in lieu and had extended the right to request flexible working to all,
    people also wanted the opportunity to buy and sell holiday to suit their
    personal circumstances.

We found out that many of our people weren’t aware of the benefits they
already had, for example life cover, which was a salutary lesson.

What was the competition offering?

We wanted to ensure our offering was competitive and said something about
what we stood for as a firm. External benchmarking of our competitors and the
wider financial services sector ensured the offering had elements that stood out
from the pack.

Getting ready for launch

As we were not adopting either firm’s legacy arrangements, ie. all employees
were being asked to sign up to new terms and conditions, the introduction of the
new package was a major change affecting everyone in the firm. Communication was
key in helping people understand:

  • why we were changing;
  • what their reward under the previous terms looked like – including the
    elements they had forgotten about;
  • what the reward from the new ‘core benefits’ package would look like
  • what the impact of their choices would be on their reward and take home pay.

We knew our people were busy but would expect information to enable them to
make informed choices.

When implementing a change for that number of people, getting consistency of
messaging and recognising the differing communication needs people have are
vitally important. We used a combination of newsletters, our intranet, a
benefits booklet sent to everyone’s home address and an office DVD presentation
(led by local partners with HR to give everyone a chance to ask questions). We
backed this up with a dedicated helpline so that everyone was able to get the
information they needed.

Did it work?

Immediately after the launch of the new scheme we surveyed our people again
to find out what they thought of the new offering and how helpful they found the
communications and rollout. The feedback found:

  • 92% felt the introduction of flexible benefits had improved their
    understanding of the firm’s offering;
  • 82% felt they had sufficient information to make their benefit choices;
  • 93% rated the enrolment experience to be satisfactory or above.

The one lesson we learned is that people tend to leave making choices to the
last minute and that the Harvard rule of ‘say something seven times for it to
sink in’ holds true.

commitment to continual improvement

The current economic climate has produced its own challenges – we need to
manage our cost base but at the same time build on making our benefits work for
our people.

We have focused on helping our people make the most of their money. Last
summer we introduced access to preferential mortgage brokering just as the
credit crunch was impacting on the ability to get a good deal.

In the autumn we ran a series of financial education seminars with the
Financial Services Authority, which were open to all employees. 87% of attendees
said they would take positive action on their financial affairs as a result of
attending a seminar. Next we introduced a discounted car-leasing scheme.

The planning for the next range of improvements is underway. Our aim is
simple: provide better benefits for our people at a better cost for the firm,
and our employee benefits consulting team is working hard with us to make this

The benefit so far

We now have a benefits scheme that provides a range of innovative,
resourceful and practical options which best reflect current lifestyle choices
of our people. This has resulted in a significant improvement in our employee
engagement survey results.

Sacha Romanovitch is a partner on the national
leadership board at

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