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Annie Hayes



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Company of the week: AstraZeneca


Ann Rae, Lead UK Reward Partner for pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca explains the ethos behind the businesses reward scheme, what part values play and why they decided to go down the flexible benefits route.

*Benefits stats*
Benefits offered:

  • Contributory pension scheme.

  • Death in service scheme.

  • Private medical insurance.

  • Holiday buy and sell scheme.

  • Travel insurance.

  • Retail vouchers.

  • Childcare vouchers.

  • Bikes for Work.

  • Dental cover.

  • Additional life insurance (individuals and partners).

  • Personal accident insurance (individuals and partners).

  • Critical illness insurance (individuals and partners).

  • Give-as-you-earn charitable donations scheme.

  • Save-as-you-earn share scheme.

  • Partnership shares.

  • Flexible working.

  • Employee counselling service.

  • Social club.

Most popular benefit: High engagement levels with the suite of flexible benefits options including childcare and retail vouchers, dental cover and travel insurance.

Most unpopular benefit: Mobile phones.

Benefits tip:

  • Be flexible.

  • Deliver a range of benefits that will appeal to workers at different life stages.
  • Remember that one-size doesn’t fit all.


Four to five years ago AstraZeneca, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies introduced its flexible benefits scheme. It was set up with the aim of adding value to a suite of core benefits, already in place, including a contributory pension scheme.

“We asked our employees what they wanted and considered their requests. Essentially we wanted to ensure that every benefit on offer relates in some way to the long-term financial security of our employees and where we have advantages as a company for example in purchasing power we want to pass those on as well as offering benefits that have bone fide tax advantages and the last condition is that any benefit on offer fits with the culture and values of the organisation,” comments Ann Rae, Lead UK Reward Partner for the firm.

And finding out what employees want and delivering them is no mean feat for an organisation that employees 65,000 globally with 11 research and development sites in the UK, Sweden, Canada, US, France, India and Japan and a further 27 manufacturing sites based in 19 countries. In the UK alone where the scheme is focused there are around 11,500 staff across nine sites, R&D, manufacturing, sales and marketing.

Despite the difficulties of location and volume, AstraZeneca has managed to stick as closely as possible to its promise of flexibility.

Employees are able to benefit from the cash value in place of most flexible benefits should they wish not to take advantage of them. This, however, is not the case says Rae who points to some impressive statistics which suggest that engagement is at an all time high: “Over 40% of staff take the travel insurance option, 25% the private medical insurance at partner level, 20% retail vouchers, 18% dental cover and 10% childcare vouchers.” This all equates to a total pot of flexible benefits being taken up, valued at around £4 million.

AstraZeneca has also delivered on its promise to pass on the advantages from its vast purchasing power. Retail vouchers can be obtained for leading supermarkets including John Lewis/Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Asda but whilst this has been hugely successful an early foray into mobile phones was soon abandoned.

“We looked at offering mobile phones but decided that we couldn’t take advantage of a market that was changing so rapidly, it was difficult to see how we could add value,” says Rae.

The flexible benefits on offer aren’t all financially focused, however. The company runs a give-as-you-earn scheme facilitating a charitable donations process. Staff can nominate an amount of money to be paid to their chosen charity and the company will match upto £250,000 annually across all selections.

The social club dubbed ‘club A-Z’ also falls under the broader benefits umbrella and is incredibly popular and it’s easy to see why. “We offer sports and leisure, archery, running, wine clubs, holidays and discounted shopping for example at local bars, crèches and restaurants,” adds Rae.

AstraZeneca like other pharmaceutical outfits has traditionally enjoyed a relatively low-turnover and whilst Rae cannot bask in the glory of any direct link with staff retention she is confident that the scheme helps in attracting the best candidates.

The success of the scheme has been its identification of putting choice and flexibility first with such a large and diverse workforce it was essential that it didn’t fall into the trap of a one-size fits all solution and its vast array of carefully selected flexible benefits are evidence of this. Not only do they appeal to all employees whatever age, sex, creed or colour but they also fit with the company culture and values adding value and helping employees achieve their long-term financial aims.

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Annie Hayes


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