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Published 08 February 2023
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What Employees Want: Flexibility and Health Perks, not Happy Hours

In the current job market, you may have to work harder to attract and retain talent in your company. We look at several perks you could offer and find out what matters most to employees.

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Like consumers, business owners are feeling the strain of the cost of living crisis on their outgoings. So you may be wondering whether offering extra benefits to your employees will pay off in the long run.

But little extras, such as being able to bring your dog to work or having access to a free gym, not to mention the possibility of flexible working and professional training, are all designed to help workers feel good and stay motivated at work. It makes business sense then to conjure up more work perks to help you compete for the best talent.

And with the cost of hiring a new employee in the UK potentially reaching over £60,000, retaining talent is perhaps more important than ever. It may end up cheaper to offer that star employee a raise or improved benefits instead of having to hire their replacement.

According to NerdWallet research on work perks in June 2022, office perks, such as free tea and coffee, and social events were not that important to employees. Instead, businesses are turning to so-called ‘lifestyle perks’, such as gym memberships, flexible working hours and the option to work from anywhere in the world, which benefit employees’ lives both in and outside the workplace.

Healthcare and wellbeing

The need to look after employees’ health and wellbeing – and, in particular, their mental health – was highlighted during the pandemic, and is an area employers still need to focus on, according to a recent survey by CIPD, the professional body for human resources and people development.

Some employers may offer membership to private medical or dental schemes. This can be attractive to employees looking for perks that benefit their life outside work, not just their wellbeing during the working day. Others will offer money towards employees’ wellbeing – to pay for yoga or pilates classes, for instance.

Our own research found that employees were more likely to value lifestyle perks than office-based perks such as social events.

Cecilia Rabagliati, senior conference producer at business publisher and events firm Real Deals Media, says that health insurance is a key perk for her, as it puts her at ease knowing she’s covered if her health takes a turn for the worse.

“Because I am at an age where I might need these services, the fact that I have medical insurance makes me more relaxed,” she explains.

Perhaps this is a knock-on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, with employees prioritising their health and lifestyle over at-work perks that may be less useful in the long run.

Many businesses have taken things one step further and offer free access to wellness apps, a wellness room in the office, as well as mental health support.

Memberships and discounts

Benefits such as gym memberships can be a common addition to employee benefits’ packages. Offering lifestyle incentives such as these can be of benefit to both the employee and the employer.

Perks will add value when they provide something to the employee for less money than the employee would pay themselves. So offering a gym membership – bought in bulk at a discount of around 20% to 30% from a local gym, for example – saves money for your employees and could be seen as a good perk.

Other lifestyle perks include discounted restaurant cards and travel or interest-free season ticket loans.

Flexible working

Flexible working is proving a popular choice for many employees. Whether it’s working from home, hybrid working or flexible working hours, employees appreciate some freedom from the traditional 9 to 5.

Employees may be happier because they are saving money on their daily commute, or they may feel more valued knowing that their employer trusts them to work independently.

Flexibility around the working week – in particular, the ability to work from home and flexible working hours – was the most important perk for employees in NerdWallet’s survey.

Interestingly, flexibility was particularly important to 45- to 54-year-olds, with around two fifths (41%) of this age group choosing flexible working hours as a preferred perk.

Letting employees manage when and where they position their hours in their working week can allow them to meet family commitments and contribute to their work-life balance.

Professional development

According to research from Robert Half Recruitment in June 2022, a third of companies planned to use professional development and training as a way to attract new talent. Almost a third (30%) also thought that providing training opportunities would help them retain existing staff.

It does seem that employees genuinely value training opportunities in their day-to-day work. “Dedicated learning days have allowed me to build my skills,” Jacob Lucas, SEO consultant at digital marketing firm Fountain Partnership, tells us. “Fountain has social and personal growth nailed.”

While lifestyle perks can help to retain staff, a salary package that matches employee expectations could be the key to attracting new talent to reinvigorate your business.

Kris Harris, regional director at Robert Half, emphasises the importance of fair and consistent salaries, especially in the current cost of living crisis.

“As most people manage their finances through monthly net pay, it is important that employers focus on salary increases,” he says.

Lucas agrees, praising his firm’s company-wide pay rise to help employees with the cost of living. “I feel genuinely cared for, both inside and outside of work,” he adds.

In October 2022, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) found that for almost two in five employees (39%), a competitive pay packet was one of the main factors keeping them in their current role.

It may be that, at the end of the day, the most important perk of all is to be financially well rewarded for the work that you do.

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