How Essex County Council is reimagining benefits post-pandemic

Essex County Council is thinking hard about what benefits look like after the pandemic, concentrating its efforts on flexible working and wellbeing for its employees.

Pam Parkes, Essex County Council’s director of organisational development and people, says: “I think there is going to be more structured hybrid working, which is what we are focused on at the moment.”

The trust that’s associated with working from home is an employee benefit in itself, believes Parkes. She explains: “Employers are repositioning their psychological relationship with their employees with trust at the heart of it. They are no longer managing performance on the basis of presenteeism, but more in terms of output and you having that adult relationship with your employees, where how they deliver it is up to them.”

While recognising the retention and talent attraction benefits of hybrid working, establishing the rules of engagement is a challenge, says Parkes. “We are having conversations with our leadership team about overarching principles for our organisation and there are juxtaposed views; some want it to be prescriptive and others loosely defined.”

Wellbeing is another important consideration. The council is focusing on physical, emotional, social and financial benefits. “We are paying a lot more attention to people’s physical wellbeing,” says Parkes. “You can do a lot in the construct of your physical spaces of work, but you have less opportunity in people’s homes.”

She and her colleagues are seeking to ensure that meetings last no longer than 55 minutes and that people always have a 10-minute break between meetings. They are also thinking about seasonality. For example, in the winter, they are hoping to shift the council’s core hours so that the working day ends earlier, allowing people to enjoy more daylight time.

Finally, the council has always had family-friendly policies, but now it is exploring introducing similar benefits for carers, says Parkes. “It has only been in the pandemic that we have realised how many employees have caring responsibilities. When you think about, for example, keeping elderly parents at home for as long as possible, what is the contribution we can make to that as an employer? We think this would give employees a sense of belonging to our organisation and would boost retention. We are looking at the cost of two to five days’ additional paid leave for carers on top of their annual leave. We see this as a contribution we can make to society.”