Employee benefits: 10 creative ways to motivate your team

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Employee Benefits Perking up the workplace Ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing lessons, free dry-cleaning and indoor golf… creative staff perks are good for morale and the bottom line. Here are 10 ways to motivate your team through employee benefits

1. Find a point of difference
Dominic Monkhouse, managing director of PEER 1 Hosting, believes company culture has a direct effect on customer service. His employees receive free food the day before payday, free doughnuts all day on Fridays and can use an indoor golf course. At London advertising agency St Luke’s, new recruits are given £150 to spend on a gift for the office. It’s a chance, says managing director Neil Henderson, “for people to introduce themselves in a more interesting way”.

St Luke’s has found that an inventive benefits package helps the company stand out from rivals as well as define the corporate culture. Every year the firm holds a St Luke’s day, used to help employees learn something new. “This year it was cooking,” says Henderson. “In the past, we have learnt drumming, shooting and falconry.”

2. Go the extra mile
After the government introduced its Cycle to Work scheme in 1999, plenty of companies took full advantage. The tax-free benefit allows employees to hire cycling equipment up to the value of £1,000. In 2006, Ikea decided to go a step further, handing out folding bicycles as a Christmas present to all 9,000 UK staff. Many companies offer reduced phone tariffs for staff. But in 2008, Ikea upped the stakes by giving every employee a free mobile phone and £5 worth of calls.

3. Make sure you measure
At Clearcast, which works with advertisers to ensure TV adverts comply with the Advertising Standards Code, a stressful working environment coupled with organisational change had started to affect morale. The company developed a benefits plan to help staff feel more valued. “We wanted to shift the mindset away from a them and us [attitude],” says head of internal operations Stephanie Hughes. Free yoga sessions, massages, and free fruit were offered, and a forum was created to give employees more of a say. Staff are given a regular performance development review. And since the changes, absenteeism has fallen significantly, while client service levels have risen. “Our turnover of scripts and response rates are both up,” Hughes points out.

4. Match benefits with goals
BSkyB’s Bigger Picture campaign aims to persuade customers to save energy. By asking employees to follow suit the broadcaster aims to underline its green credentials. BSkyB launched a carbon credit card, which allowed staff to receive points for green living, such as taking public transport or walking to work, or choosing video conferencing rather than taking a flight. Prizes are given to staff with the most points. Incentives such as discounts on green holidays and volunteering schemes that allow employees to teach sustainability in schools help reward staff and showcase corporate values.

5. Keep staff energised
Hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds is famed for offering employees holidays as a reward for loyalty and prizes, such as helicopter rides or luxury train trips on the Orient Express, for the best business improvement suggestions. John Lewis owns and runs five holiday destinations for the benefit of its staff. These include a 16th-century castle on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, a watersports club on Lake Bala in north Wales and a country house hotel in Hampshire.

6. Look after your people
The link between health and productivity is well proven. Not only do healthy employees take fewer sick days, but they’re also inclined to work harder for longer. ThinkMoney opened an onsite gym last year employing two full-time trainers who give personalised fitness lessons and offer nutritional advice. There are free lunchtime exercise classes, from “boxercise” to yoga. But staff welfare doesn’t stop at health. A free concierge service looks after employees’ dry-cleaning, car servicing and postal services.

7. Competition rules, OK?
Not only is competition healthy, but it helps keep things interesting, too. At New Charter Housing Trust Group staff bid, Dragons’ Den-style, for extra learning and training unrelated to their everyday roles. Last year, winning pitches included lessons in Turkish, ballroom dancing and dressmaking. At the Richmond Group, managing director James Benamor wanted to develop the company’s loan brokerage business. Instead of leading the expansion himself, he gave two teams £10,000 each in start-up capital, promising to keep the best-performing business. Six months later, Benamor picked the team responsible for Debt Line. It is now the company’s second-biggest brand.

8. Give power to your people
Rather than impose benefits you think your staff might like, involve them in the decision. At Shine Communications, managers introduced a culture team to allocate the company’s £72,000 “fun budget”, which is spent on an eclectic mix of benefits, such as themed dinners and bake-offs. The entire company votes for best employee four times a year. PR is a pretty democratic business, it seems. At Bite Communications, a staff-nominated “star of the month” has the chance to win a secondment to one of 11 Bite offices around the world.

9. Some people need a push
A benefit management deems worthwhile won’t necessarily be valued by the workforce. Capital One combats the inertia of workplace pension schemes by automatically increasing individual contributions by one per cent each year, unless staff deliberately choose not to take part. At Linklaters, new employees are automatically enrolled into the pension scheme but are given 30 days to opt out. Government reforms requiring all organisations to auto-enrol staff into a pension scheme start in October 2012.

10. Link rewards to results
To stand out in a highly competitive market, sandwich retailer Pret a Manger depends on consistent customer service. The company uses mystery shoppers, who covertly score employee performance at each branch several times a year. Bonuses are paid to every employee, not just the manager, if standards are upheld. Individual employees can be singled out for praise, earning them extra cash, while consistently high standards over the course of a year for any branch earns the general manager a lump sum to be spent on a team outing. It’s a case of rewarding behaviour you want to encourage.

By David Woodward, February 2011: Director Magazine

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Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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