Profile on Ladbrokes’ benefits package

In summary

For sports enthusiasts a job at Ladbrokes is probably the Holy Grail, so by offering benefits that tap into that enthusiasm the company is onto a winner. Discounted football tickets and even a stake in a racehorse are often available to staff, alongside more conventional voluntary benefits, pension scheme and share scheme.

Article in full

Happy is the man whose job is his hobby. So for sports enthusiasts, a job at Ladbrokes, where even the accounts department has football showing in the background, is something of a dream gig. The betting chain has exploited this advantage and tailored its benefits offering to appeal to employees’ favourite pursuit. Ros Barker, HR director, says: “We have a lot of potential lures in our kitbag, because if you’ve got people who really like sport then you’ve kind of halfway got them already. “It is a business that’s about fun and about passion for sport. For lots of people, having a job where it’s okay to watch loads of sport and talk about it all the time is pretty damn fine – like dying and going to heaven.”

Last year the firm secured dozens of tickets for each Manchester United home game. Employees were invited to enter a ballot to get the coveted tickets at a generously discounted price. “We were knocked over in the rush on that one,” Barker enthuses. For wannabe racing magnates, the firm has devised a scheme where employees can buy a stake in a horse. “Normal people can’t afford to own racehorses. Obviously, as we are in the industry, we managed to negotiate an extremely good deal for our staff,” she explains. In exchange for paying for training and racing fees, employees can watch races from the owners’ enclosure and scoop some of the winnings if the horse comes in. Over 100 employees now own shares in the horse.

Business is buoyant in the gambling sector, so Ladbrokes can afford to take a punt on a few new benefits. The launch of the National Lottery in 1994 and the explosion of online gaming have encouraged new customers to take a flutter. Furthermore, last year’s Gambling Bill promises to relax betting laws even further. So gambling’s unstoppable march into the mainstream looks set to continue. Much like the betting industry, Ladbrokes’ benefits package has had a makeover during the past year. It’s been a hectic time for the HR team, who have overseen the introduction of a raft of new schemes. Recent additions to its portfolio of perks include: a financial advice website; voluntary benefits; a healthcare scheme; an employee assistance programme; and payroll giving.

Barker, who moved to Ladbrokes from publishers Penguin because she missed the scale of a big firm, reckons larger organisations have a lead on small businesses when it comes to benefits. She gives the example of the voluntary scheme. “It’s something that big companies have a capacity to do. If you are a little one man band and you employ two people it’s actually very difficult to do much in the benefits line. [Larger firms] have got big buying power which makes a huge difference.” One area that Barker is particularly enthusiastic about is work-life balance. And although almost two-thirds of Ladbrokes staff are female, she stresses that it is not only working mums that are eligible for the benefit – any employee can request reduced or flexible hours. However, at present, the scheme is limited by restrictions on bookies’ opening hours. Under current law, opening hours are from 7am to 10pm during the summer and from 7am to 6.30pm the rest of the year.

“Historically, that’s because it’s dark and horse races, an area where the business is traditionally grounded, don’t run. But now we have lots of products that are not about horse racing,” explains Barker. Under a proposed overhaul of these laws through the Gambling Bill, opening hours could be extended in the winter. “It will enable us to extend further the work that we’ve done on flexible working and make sure that we’re able to offer people the kind of hours that suit them because we employ a lot of part-time staff. And they are not just mums coming back to work, a lot of them are students and older people who might want just a few hours here and there. It adds variety, some people may have two or three different jobs.”

The company has an age-diverse workforce, with employees’ ages ranging from 18 up to 75. This is down to a flexible retirement initiative, launched last year, which enables older staff not quite ready for a life of leisure to retire gradually. Flexible retirees can either freeze their company pension and carry on in the same job or use the money from part-time working to supplement their pension. “You are trying to offer people at the different times of their lives something appropriate to them. It’s about acknowledging that you don’t suddenly want to give up work when you reach a magic age. It’s just another day: you might wish to carry on working. It’s very important to give people choice.” Since the scheme’s launch last April, over 100 staff have taken advantage. “Each person works it out with their line manager and we do try and accommodate them. It’s quite powerful really.”

Ladbrokes is also one of the few firms which offers a day’s leave for new grandparents, so they can take a break and help out with the new baby. “It’s a huge event in people’s lives, particularly when they are a grandparent for the first time, and they really appreciate you acknowledging [this] and just saying to people ‘look, go and celebrate’.” While older employees are catered for with flexible retirement, younger employees are salivating at the prospect of buying cheap music through the voluntary benefits scheme. “The 20-year-olds still don’t think [pensions] are interesting – understandably, CD Wow and DVDs are the number one benefit among younger employees.” Barker wishes they could muster the same enthusiasm about the fact that Ladbrokes (through parent Hilton Group) is one of the last few FTSE 100 companies which still has a final salary pension open to new members, albeit after a six-month qualifying period. While the voluntary benefits scheme was free to install, the pension scheme represents a significant investment for the firm. So whereas over the last few years the HR department has focused on introducing new benefits, this year it will zero-in on communicating them effectively. Barker wants to make sure that Labrokes blows its own trumpet and that staff appreciate and understand their pension, as well as other perks. “We’ve got a little target for our own benefits strategy. At the moment we offer and provide a lot but don’t necessarily market that as a package internally as well as we might.”

Career profile Ros Barker

Barker subscribes to the hourglass theory of HR. “I think when you are starting out you want to try and do as many bits of the HR jigsaw as you can,” she explains. “So, you want to do a bit of recruitment, training, employee relations and compensation and benefits. In the middle of [your] career you specialise so you become a bit of an expert in one of those fields. “In my own case, I was the industrial relations guru and I did a lot of negotiations and that sort of work. Then I clearly had some kind of road to Damascus experience because I then went into management development.” An HR veteran, Barker has been in the field for 31 years. “I’ve been in HR forever. I’ve been in HR since it was called personnel,” she says. After a law degree at the University of Warwick, Ros started out as an industrial relations manager at mail order firm Kays. This was followed by a stint as head of personnel at WH Smith where she developed a taste for retail and multi-site businesses. After a spell at Penguin Books, where she “missed the scale and the numbers”, she joined Ladbrokes in 1995 as HR Director. Her legal background stood her in good stead in the current climate of increased regulation and staff compensation. “I think anybody who works in generalist human resources would tell you that knowledge of employment law and a sound understanding of how it influences the employer- employee relationship is absolutely vital. And there are so many other bits of law that impact, including pensions and health and safety stuff.”

Employee case study

District supervisor Jane Fiddes oversees 11 stores in London’s West End. She rates the voluntary benefits scheme highly and recently took advantage of discounts on airport parking.She believes that the scheme, provided by Bringme, offers a good range of benefits for staff. “I know people buy home and pet insurance through it and a lot of people tend to use the jewellery discount, which is brilliant.” Having worked at the betting firm for more than 10 years, she is entitled to 22 days holiday a year, which she also sees as a valuable perk. “Every five years you work at Ladbrokes you gain an extra day.” Fiddes describes herself as a people person. “I love working with the staff and customers.” She also enjoys the sporting side of the job. “I’m into snooker and you have to watch a lot of sport. So I’m up to date with it.” She adds that Ladbrokes’ benefits package helps colleagues to bond and get to know each other better, as they discuss the latest additions. “I think [the benefits] are very rewarding and bring people together. People talk and communicate more.”

Benefits box

Pension Defined benefit (final salary) scheme. Open to all employees with six months service. Company cars Provided to certain management grades. Staff can either take a car or opt for a cash payment instead. Work-life balance Flexible working policy, which allows any employee to request reduced hours. Flexible retirement. Holidays 20-28 days depending on grade and length of service. One day paid leave for new grandparents. Canteen Subsidised restaurant at head office. Healthcare Private medical insurance offered to certain management grades. Every employee is entitled to a free eye test at Specsavers. Also a discount eyecare plan available through voluntary benefits. Personal Accident Insurance available for every worker. Healthcare cash plan scheme from HSA for all staff. Gym Membership to the onsite gym at head office costs £15 a year. Staff can also get discounted gym membership through the voluntary benefits scheme. Financial advice Staff can get financial guidance through the My Money Pal website. Employee assistance programme EAP telephone line available 24 hours. If needed, employees are referred to counselling at the company’s expense. Share scheme Sharesave scheme and an ‘Own’ share plan whereby staff can buy two shares and get one free. In turn, they get a shareholders discount on Hilton accommodation. Company at a glance Founded back in 1886, Ladbrokes was established to cater for the gambling appetites of Britain’s horse-owning aristocracy. Today, its parent company, hotel and leisure giant Hilton Group, is in the FTSE 100 and Ladbrokes owns over 2,000 retail outlets in the UK and Ireland. The bookies, as we know them, began in earnest after betting shops were legalised in the late 1960s. Customers can bet on anything – from who will win Big Brother to snow at Christmas – but, the business now extends far past traditional over-the-counter bets. Its online casinos and poker rooms now attract bets from over 100 countries and, to cater for foreign visitors, staff offer linguistic support in 13 languages. The firm also owns the greyhound tracks in Kent and Wolverhamption, and is the official bookmaker at Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea football grounds. Depending on the outcome of the Gambling Bill, the company has announced the possibility of opening a glitzy Vegas-style resort casino in the UK.