What new approaches are businesses adopting to rewarding and retaining talented staff? Liz Loxton goes in search of companies who dare to do it differently
In boom times, rewards were a simple matter. Packages that bundled together performance-related bonuses with perks such as company cars, health insurance and long-service awards had a seemingly unshakeable place in corporate life.
Nearly three years on from the credit crunch, however, and cash available under the heading ‘discretionary spend’ continues to dwindle in many organisations. Meanwhile, employers still have to grapple with the issue of attracting and retaining the kind of people who will drive their businesses forward.
Time, experts say, for some fresh thinking on rewards. A flexible approach that puts a premium on creating a distinctive company culture and matching the values of the organisation with those of employees is what’s called for, they argue.
A stand-out example is the outdoor clothing manufacturer and retailer Patagonia. Founded by Yvon Chouinard, a climber and outdoorsman about as far away from the typical business person as it is possible to be, Patagonia boasts exceptional family-friendly policies and notably relaxed ideas around how staff should spend their daylight hours. If at the company’s Californian headquarters, surf is up, employees go surfing. In Annecy, at Patagonia’s European headquarters, if skiing conditions are good, then staff hit the pistes.
Patagonia’s Annecy-based employees are encouraged to ski – perhaps early in the morning – and then return to work without compromising their holiday entitlement so long as work is done. Employees receive financial support for sporting pursuits, providing they are non-motorised. If you arrived at the offices at noon, you would probably encounter employees setting out on a run, a bike ride around the lake or a swim in summer. “As long as the work is done, we are not very picky on working hours,” says a company spokesperson.
Mark Withers, managing director of HR consultancy MightyWaters says that employers who want to think about their rewards structure anew need to establish a really strong fit between those rewards and the culture they are trying to maintain. A poorly chosen rewards programme can often be seen by employees as quite mechanistic, he says. “Companies that do this well are the ones who know how to connect to the things that matter to the people that work for them.”
With the war for talent still very much a reality for recruiters, company culture has assumed a new ascendency. Moonpig, the online greetings card company, has put the creation of a comfortable and fun working culture front and centre. Managing director Iain Martin says members of staff frequently say to him that the company is the best place they have ever worked.
At Moonpig’s London Bridge headquarters, staff members enjoy comfortable, spacious surroundings, a 12-seater dining table that encourages a sociable approach to mealtimes (“One of the best things we have ever done,” says Martin) and a company pig. In fact, that’s two micro pigs, who visit the company for one day a month. “It’s a lot of fun,” Martin says, simply.
It’s not a mere gimmick, he explains. “You spend so much time at work. Environment is important and hugely underrated by many people.” Moonpig has a warm, approachable atmosphere and a very collaborative working style, he says. Nobody ever raises their voice and the company has a zero tolerance of office politics.
Traditional rewards, like healthcare packages, play second fiddle to this emphasis on being a place people want to be. “Salary is very important,” says Martin. “We make sure we are paying at the right level. But we don’t dress up the package with extras like healthcare.”
The ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos is also in evidence at a Buckinghamshire-based HR consultancy. Last Christmas, The Chemistry Group’s enlightened CEO rewarded female staff members with a day of personal shopping at Selfridges, helped along by a £1,000 allowance per head. Their male counterparts enjoyed a day racing high performance cars, from F1 and F2 motors to souped-up Renault Clios. The consultancy also sent staff and their families to Disneyland Paris for a weekend. HR director Francesca Cockram, says it’s important to acknowledge people’s family circumstances and that the consultancy sets great store providing perks that enable staff to enjoy time with their families, rather than away from them.
Perks and rewards form only one part of the workforce psyche, however. Employers have now become well attuned to the desire of a new generation of employees to work for companies whose social conscience mirrors their own. City institutions and the bigger consultancies in particular understand they need to offer time out for those with charitable aspirations.
At Big Four accountancy firm KPMG, for instance, every employee can reserve a half-day a month to work for a charity of their choice or a firm-sponsored programme. Head of performance and reward Ingrid Waterfield, says some of the firm’s more experienced partners work with the Hackney Academy, so participants who work there also benefit from interaction with very senior colleagues.
There is undoubtedly kudos in a carefully considered CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme, but forward-thinking employers score highly when they give staff opportunities to do something other than work. “Lots of people want to do something more life-enhancing that merely turning up to work and making lots of money,” says Withers. “Tapping into the aspirations of the people who work for you makes work less of a transactional part of life.”
Liz Loxton is a freelance business journalist specialising in management issues and entrepreneurial companies. Her writing has appeared in
The Sunday Times and
The Independent on Sunday.