Despite the turbulent economic and political landscape in the UK, the war for talent wages on. Excellent employees come at a higher premium than ever, with both SMEs and enterprises often targeting the same populations of talent. 

We’re increasingly seeing employers pull out all the stops to attract talent for critical roles. Salary is still seen as an important factor impacting employee satisfaction, but businesses are also recognising that other factors, such as the additional benefits they provide employees, are increasingly important in both attracting and keeping talent. 

 Adding the quirk factor 

 In the past, offering a flexible benefits scheme may have set a business apart from the crowd. Now these are standard across many industries, and being made more accessible by developments in technology. Within the FTSE 100, 70 to 80 per cent of companies now have flex schemes.  

Employers are therefore getting increasingly inventive with their perks. Examples such as Lloyds banking offering gender-reassignment surgery, and US grocery business Boxed Wholesale offering to pay for employees’ weddings, show the extreme length companies are going to in order to get ahead of the competition. 

 Method in the madness 

 On the surface, this trend could be driven by inter-company competitiveness, but look a little deeper and method is evident in the madness. Take Facebook and Apple announcing they would offer to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs. While the media was quick to criticise the benefit for chaining women to their desks, the scheme was about giving women a choice. Anyone who looked into Facebook’s parenting policies would see that it offers a whole arsenal of benefits to support women if they choose to have children.  

Unusual perks are by no means just for women. In a move to target a very different demographic, accountancy giant Deloitte launched a new housing initiative to support graduates moving to London. The scheme clearly aims to attract top young talent to the organisation, but also has the potential to attract graduates from more diverse backgrounds. Talented people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who may have previously been put off from applying to Deloitte due to the financial burden of moving to London now have options. 

These benefits have the potential to fundamentally change employees’ lives by offering them convenience, choice and flexibility. They empower employees and encourage them to remain loyal to their organisations. While the initiatives mentioned above can seem quite costly, even benefits which appear to be simple treats often have an underlying role in supporting a values-driven company culture. 

 Is there a right time to think outside the box?  

There is no specific point in the year that HR and reward professionals should introduce an innovative perk, but before taking the plunge, it is important to consider the following five key areas: 

 Assessing the workforce 

It’s important to regularly assess the workforce and evaluate whether their current scheme really presents the best fit. The challenge for benefits professionals is to choose a benefit that meets the needs of dominant demographics, but also caters for diverse groups.  

Current engagement 

If a scheme is receiving very little engagement, introducing a quirky benefit will make little difference. Employees won’t realise it’s there, or they’ll be irritated that a sub-standard scheme has been supplemented with something so left-field. Here employers would be better off improving their existing scheme and communications before introducing a quirky benefit. 

Aligning with the overall business strategy and company culture 

Not all benefits will work for all organisations. For example, Netflix, Glassdoor, and the Virgin Group all offer their employees unlimited vacation time. The success of this type of benefit depends on company culture. Without the incentive to ‘use or lose’ the days, some employees will just carry on working, leading to fatigue which could eventually have negative repercussions for the business.  

Alternatives 

Benefits don’t have to be quirky to make a real difference to employees’ lives. Sometimes it’s the little things, such as giving praise or an office fruit bowl, which can make all the difference.  

An effective communications plan is crucial in encouraging employees to engage with their benefits schemes. Employees who are engaged in their reward schemes are more likely to understand their value. Ultimately, employees who feel valued are more likely to remain with their employer and give more discretionary effort to their role.  

 Measuring success  

Employers should decide early on what they’re hoping to achieve through the introduction of a new benefit, and have an agreed methodology in place for assessing its impact. This could be anything from a reduction in attrition rates, to an increase in employee engagement. Experimenting with benefits should be encouraged. After all, it is only through experimenting that we can hope to innovate.  

  

Top 10 most quirky benefits 
1.  Lloyds banking Group: Gender-reassignment surgery 
2. Facebook / Google: Egg freezing 
3. Boxed Wholesale: Funding employees' weddings  
4.  KKR : Paid nanny travel 
5.  Aetna: Paying employees to sleep 
6.  Deloitte: Accommodation scheme for graduate staff 
7.  Practichem: Leasing Tesla Model 3s  
8.  Ernst & Young: Same-sex partnership benefits 
9.  Gradifi Inc: Subtle student loan payments  
10.  Netflix / Glassdoor / Virgin: Unlimited holiday leave