The Guardian’s Emma Sheppard sheds light on the creative ways that companies are treating and their retaining their workforce.

Two company retreats a year, €4,000 to spend on setting up your home office, a free Fitbit and Kindle, a €2,000 holiday budget, and more – the benefits at Maltese technology company Hotjar are extensive for its 50 employees, all of whom work remotely and are spread across 16 countries.

“We are trying to build a team people want to come and work for, and we have a very high retention rate,” says CEO David Darmanin about their company perks. “We’re quite a small team and we hire relatively slowly, and only when it’s really painful [because of the amount of work]. When we do find someone who’s a good fit, we invest heavily in them, because we feel it will really pay off.”

According to research by Investors in People, 59% of staff are considering moving jobs in 2017, an increase of 10% on 2016. A poll of more than 1,000 people revealed growing discontent around poor management and pay. More than half (51%) said they were looking to move jobs because they believed they would be paid more elsewhere. Not feeling valued and no career progression were other top gripes.

This preoccupation with pay is perhaps not surprising – the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes Britons are facing the longest sustained squeeze on their earnings for 70 years. In the face of such a squeeze, and pessimistic outlooks for improved earnings, more businesses are getting creative with employee benefits.

There’s less of the big money payouts, but much more inventive use of money to incentivise

Stephanie McCutcheon, an Investors in People practitioner based near Belfast, says the focus has shifted from just remuneration to benefits that improve the company culture. “Whenever we go into organisations now we see employees place a lot of emphasis not only on the tangible rewards but also the intangible rewards. [There’s] less of the big money payouts, but much more inventive use of money to incentivise.”

In a recent analysis, corporate review site Glassdoor found 34% of people report that perks are the most important consideration before accepting a job. Some of the more unusual include: a paid week’s leave for employees to help their new dogs settle in at home, at craft beer company Brewdog; interest-free loans for home improvements or weddings, at property company ZPG; and a wellness allowance programme, with up to £1,200 given to spend on fitness, such as gym membership or yoga classes, at Expedia.

Health and wellbeing

Improving health and wellbeing for workers is emerging as a key consideration for firms, many of which are rolling out wellbeing strategies at an unprecedented rate. The Reward & Employee Benefits Association found nearly half (45%) of the British businesses surveyed now have a wellbeing strategy, compared with 30% in 2016. The rest have plans – or wish – to implement one in the future.

At education recruitment company SmithCorp, incentives for its 140 employees have traditionally been tied to performance. Staff compete for a place on one of three all-expenses-paid holidays a year, are taken out for lunch once a month if they bring £21,000 worth of business into the company, and will receive a Rolex watch when they hit £1m (typically after six or seven years). But the firm has recently invested in a “hub” area, where a free breakfast is available every morning, together with mindfulness sessions and experts offering free financial advice.

“That’s a new thing, but it’s part of our evolution,” says chief development officer James Hodkinson. “We’re growing up as a business. Thirty or 40 years ago, employers weren’t doing a lot of these things, but I think there’s an expectation from potential employees that you’re doing a bit more.”

Part of this may be the impact of millennials. Investors in People found that more than a third (38%) of younger employees (aged 16-29) said being part of an organisation that values its staff was one of the most important factors when job hunting. McCutcheon says they also place a greater emphasis on work-life balance. “When we ask them what they value most, it’s actually flexibility and time – such as getting an hour off to get home early. That’s more valuable to them than the money.”

Cake and massages

Recruitment firm Expand Executive Search – an Investors in People platinum-accredited organisation that has just won an Investors in People award for excellence in reward and recognition – has introduced random acts of generosity to make staff feel valued. That could be anything from unexpectedly sending everyone home at 1pm on a Friday to hiring a masseuse to give free massages, or presenting someone with a cake on their first work anniversary. There’s also a praise pot, which is a peer-to-peer incentive. Every quarter, three members of the team are nominated by their fellow employees to share 1% of the company’s profits.

“They’re not huge financial bonuses, but they really make people feel good – and the element of surprise, not knowing when they’re coming, really emphasises the positivity around it,” says head of marketing Helen Long. “The boost they give to our team is almost immeasurable.”

Darmanin admits there is a cost associated with the benefits provided at Hotjar (although it provides them despite not receiving the same tax breaks as some multinational companies based in Malta). But the effect it has on the team makes it worthwhile. “It obviously is a cost item on our profit-and-loss report, but we see the benefits,” he says. “As soon as someone joins Hotjar we send them a pack with a high-quality headset and a Kindle and tell them: ‘You have an unlimited budget, buy anything you want.’ Instantly they feel trusted and know the company believes in them. That is really powerful.”

Paul Devoy, Investors in People chief executive, says that expectation, honesty and inspiration are fundamental to good people management: “Employing expectation as a leadership tool is the most effective way of motivating your employees to give their best.

“Communicating that you see potential, and asking people to consistently deliver at that level, is a way of showing both appreciation for their job function and respect for their talent.”

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