Matt Evans, Research Manager for Sift Talent interviews Gareth Ashley-Jones the man who successfully designed and implemented a flexible benefits programme for Barclays' 65,000 UK employees. We ask what steps organisations can take to improve employee engagement levels and we find out his predictions for the changing employee benefits landscape.
What is the best productivity tip you have ever received?
Being happy in your work is a big part of productivity. I remember that somebody said to me that their aim was to create a culture and working environment where they would be happy to have their daughter work. With three daughters of my own I would take the same view. If you can walk into an office, work there for a week and by the end of the week think to yourself – yes, I would really like to see my daughter or son get a job here, then that indicates a good environment.
I was very proud of working for Barclays Capital. It was a dynamic place to work and I felt a real emotional connection with it feeling highly motivated to put in as much effort as it took to achieve the best possible outcome. You never heard anyone in the investment bank say – I am too busy to do that. Instead, the response would be – tell me what you need doing and we will get it done. In that environment you felt motivated, enabled and energised to do your best work.
How did you prioritise some of the changes and developments that you implemented at Barclays?
When I joined the investment bank there was a mixture of long term and short term priorities. Implementing a flexible benefits scheme was the longer term priority. The projects within my own remit which didn’t require the support of the whole organisation to implement would fall within the area of shorter term priorities
At the local level I needed to understand what I could do within reasonable timescales and budgets to help improve the employee proposition. Employee feedback highlighted areas such as support to stop smoking, seminars on financial planning and tax issues and the reviewing of dentistry and emergency domiciliary care provision.
Does the addition of Generation Y to the workforce require organisations to design more flexible, diverse and responsive benefit packages?
I would take a slightly different view. I don’t think it has anything to do with Generation Y. My view is that people get used to things. Flexible benefits have been around for a long time. Royal Bank of Scotland implemented its flexible benefit scheme around 1998, so it’s been in for almost 20 years. It becomes the norm and no longer acts on its own as a motivator; it’s just something which should be in place for employees. You have to keep changing and the more flexible you can make things the better for everyone. When flexible benefits came in during the late 1990s they were inflexible and involved making an annual choice, which in part was due to tax legislation at that time.
A factor which can affect engagement levels is the question of accessibility. At Barclay's in Canary Wharf we had 20,000 employees and they all had computer access and were really engaged in the benefits programme. Out in the branch network were people as engaged? Sometimes there would be only one computer for staff to use in the branch and therefore it was more difficult to get people engaged and enthusiastic from a distance. When you have a part-time cashier who needs to login from their home computer after a demanding day at work in order to access the programme it becomes more of a challenge in terms of engagement.
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