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Feature: When employee benefits affect your business

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By Tim Bradley, managing director, Pecaso UK


Work/life balance is one of the hot topics of the moment, with reports appearing left, right and centre of Britons’ lack of ‘R’ and ‘R’. Employers have reacted to this with a range of benefits, from duvet-days to flexi-time. However, whilst employees may well have gotten used to the kid-glove treatment – duvet days, flexi-time, ample holidays, teleworking – employers have to be careful that these are handled in the right way.

‘Work-life balance’ has to benefit both parties – not only must benefits not damage your business, the provision of such things should offer some benefit to the organisation in terms of improved employee satisfaction, reduced churn and increased productivity.

Take the 2002 World Cup. One local authority gave staff two duvet days to take during the working year. These were designed for employees to take when they were feeling a bit jaded after a night on the tiles, or if they had to wait in for the plumber. However, what the authority hadn’t factored for was the staffing effect duvet days would have in the event of a national football match. The authority concerned was so under-staffed that it had to close its cash office for the day after the match.

Another example is the recent strike at British Airways. The pay deal included BA’s introduction of a £1,000 bonus for those taking less than eight sick days per year. However, staff taking more than eight days but providing a doctor’s note will still get the bonus: thus to many this seems like not a sick day bonus at all, but an extra 8 ‘duvet days’ plus £1,000. This seems to the outside world like employee benefits gone crazy.

Evidently, when staff benefits are negatively affecting your business, it is time for a serious revision of processes. As good a feeling as it is to hand out benefits to staff, damaging your business in the process is not desirable. HR professionals have to realise that benefits need to be geared to fit the business.

For example, in the duvet day debacle, the employer should have had the foresight to see the potential problems. Therefore, scheduling in employee benefits entitlements and initiating restrictions for when and where duvet days can be taken, start their flexible day or work from home is paramount.

Obviously, a ‘paper-and-pen’ approach is not realistic where keeping this type of system in order is concerned, especially when working for a large organisation. There are no hard and fast rules to managing these kinds of employee benefits – but there are several things to remember:

Schedule and stagger
Make it a rule that no more than one or two people per department can take the same duvet day. ‘First come, first served’ is a useful rule, and should be made to apply here.

Make the benefit fit the role
Some benefits may not be practicable for employees performing a certain role – for example, duvet days may not be suitable for client-facing employees whose customers need to know when they will be contactable. Benefit packages may differ from department to department and from individual to individual. Do not be afraid to mix-and-match to suit both employee and business.

Define holiday notice periods
The notice required for holidays often differs according to the nature of the organisation and the role: customer facing sales people may need to provide more than a week’s notice of the intention to take holidays, whilst factory shift workers’ roles may enable more flexibility. Ensure that processes are in place and understood for every area. Explain the rules in order to avoid disgruntlement and feelings of ‘favouritism’.

Don’t bend the rules
All employees should have to toe the official line: any favours or deviation will set a precedent.

Agree flexi-time hours of business
If flexi-time is workable for your business but only to a point clearly set out the hours. For example employees may have to work 40 hours per week between the hours of 7am and 9pm.

Home working
The same should be true of work from home: it should be made clear that employees ought to be contactable within working hours but also agree rules to stop them being made to work a 24 hour day or be constantly on-call.

Have the technology
HR departments need good workforce management software in place in order to deal with the scheduling of these different benefits and the staffing problems that could arise from them. Investment in this technology at the beginning of implementation of the entitlements can pre-empt many of the potential problems.

Employee benefits are essential to the running of a happy and efficient workforce. Treating employees ‘well’ can pay dividends for the business in terms of productivity, staff longevity and morale.

However, HR departments must remember that employee benefits are designed to be of business benefit too. Nice as it is to hand out ‘treats’ in the form of holiday and other rewards, the overall effect on the business must be positive or the impact may be disastrous.

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