Sony UK has invested in lifestyle facilities to keep its employees fully energised for maximum performance, says Debbie Lovewell
The location of Sony UK’s head office on the site of the old Brooklands motor racing circuit is perhaps apt for an organisation that has an initiative called ‘Firing on all cylinders’ at the heart of its culture.
Introduced in 2007, ‘Firing on all cylinders’ is aimed at ensuring Sony employees constantly perform at optimum levels and make the most of their energy. Tina Odell, pensions manager at the electronics firm, explains: “It is about managing your energy better, and about high performance, health and happiness. It is an instemic part of our culture now.
“It is also looking at things like energy and the way employees want to operate at their best. Looking at things that may trigger them from an emotional standpoint. The idea is they stay in an optimum position so they remain effective.”
Positive impact on motivation
All employees receive three days’ training on the main points of the programme, as well as follow-up sessions. “The programme is not about trying to get more out of people, but investing more in people, thereby having a positive impact on things like, particularly, motivation,” says Odell.
To ensure all areas of the organisation support the programme, during the past couple of years, Sony has been actively reviewing a number of its policies and procedures, and its benefits package has been a key part of this exercise.
“The main principles of ‘Firing on all cylinders’ are: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual,” says Odell. “It is taking those four elements and working out how to optimise energy within them. It could be about adopting a healthier lifestyle, whether that is around eating, sleeping or getting fit. Not just employees making a commitment that they are going to make changes, but actually building it in as a ritual. We have done a number of initiatives around how we can be mutually supportive to ensure those changes do become rituals.”
Flexible working policy
As a result, Sony has made several changes to its benefits package in the past year. Last summer, for example, it introduced year-long sabbaticals and a flexible working policy that recognises the needs of employees who are not parents. “We have a lot of people who have, for instance, eldercare needs or other circumstances, so we wanted to introduce more flexibility,” says Odell.
To boost employees’ work-life balance further, Sony also increased the maximum amount of holiday employees can purchase through its flexible benefits scheme from six to seven weeks a year.
It also offers staff the opportunity to take three paid days a year to perform voluntary work, which employees can do as part of a team or as individuals.
Good work-life balance
Such measures, which are aimed at helping employees to achieve and maintain a good work-life balance, are a key part of its culture of working towards high performance levels. Odell says this stems from the need to recognise that employees will inevitably go through periods of feeling burnt out and low on energy, from which recovery is vital. So, as well as its work-life balance initiatives, Sony provides a number of on-site facilities designed to help relieve employee stress and aid recovery.
These include chill-out rooms, where staff can relax and take advantage of massage chairs, and a fun room where they can play games such as table football, pool and on a Sony Playstation.
To make life as easy as possible for employees, Sony’s head office also includes a subsidised gym that offers a personal trainer and numerous classes, and a restaurant that offers a high-energy, low-glycemic index (GI) menu to help maintain employees’ energy levels. Odell adds: “We try to make sure the environment provides enough facilities in terms of things like dry cleaning, a gym, and buses up to the station. We have also had people come in and do things like manicures and eyebrow shaping.”
Differentiation from competitors
It is these types of facility that enable Sony to differentiate its benefits package from competitors. “If I am honest, if you look at our benefits, they are all very nice but probably quite stereotypical of an organisation like Sony,” says Odell. “There is nothing that distinguishes them. What is probably a little bit different is how we pull them together and the softer bits.”
The focus on work-life balance is a shift from the company’s previous long-hours culture, which stems from its Japanese origins. “We have moved away from a long-hours culture to being more sensible about how we do things,” says Odell.
But despite undergoing such significant changes in its culture and strategy, Sony has yet to calculate the results. “With anything like that, it does take a few years before you start reaping the true reward,” says Odell. “The measurables to see the impact of something like ‘Firing on all cylinders’ are at the moment probably still in their infancy. What we are doing is trying to make sure we align our benefits and policies to support the work that has been initiated.”
Putting benefits online
Going forward, the company aims to put as much of its benefits package and information online as possible. “We are looking at when we have someone new to the organisation, making sure they can access information about their benefits package before they join,” says Odell. “We are partly there. We are there in terms of some of the benefits, with the pension and flex, and we are working towards doing that with the car scheme as well. Our general direction is to be in a position where as much as possible is available online and you do not have to physically be on site [to access it].
“All our communication is online and what we give out, we try to make sure is short and snappy, with the exception of pensions. You cannot really do pensions lightly.”
Rather than issue a text-heavy benefits booklet to communicate its flex scheme to staff, Sony uses a series of postcards to relay information about the perks.
Firing on all cylinders
To help guide staff through its Firing on all cylinders initiative, it issues them with daily desk diaries that include little tips or points to consider each day.
The company’s most popular benefit, however, is also a valuable means of ensuring employees understand the business – the staff discount on Sony products. “It is almost compulsory that every employee has to have a Sony TV at home,” says Odell.
“It is a worthwhile thing to do because employees become good ambassadors for the brand and will certainly be up to speed with all the latest gadgets. If we are having a new product range and we have an event where we show dealers what is coming up, we will normally open that up to staff as well because we need them to understand what is there.”
Keeping employees engaged
Sony’s overall philosophy about the role of benefits and reward in the organisation is simple. “It is about keeping an employee as engaged and motivated as they were when they joined,” says Odell. “Putting all your efforts into sustaining staff in that position, as opposed to an organisation where they just burn out and then are guided out.”
In keeping with the legacy of its head office site at Brooklands, Sony is aiming to keep its staff in pole position.
Career history: Tina Odell
Tina Odell, pensions manager at Sony UK, began her career outside the HR arena as an accountant, working for organisations such as Royal Mail. The skills she acquired in this phase of her working life have proved valuable after her career change.
“I still struggle with the repetitive nature of accountancy work,” she says. “You are in this continual cycle – whether it be a day, a week, a month or a year – where your reward for doing a good job is to do it all over again. I like a role that has a high degree of numeracy – so a pure HR role probably would not be a good suit – but compensation and benefits still satisfies those needs.
“I read a book once that said to be truly successful, you should have at least two complete career changes or a complete change of direction. I am not sure that is completely true, but I think it is very hard to do a good HR job if you do not have some sort of financial background.”
Odell has been with Sony UK for eight years following 10 years with software company Lotus Development as a reward specialist looking after international compensation and benefits.
The benefits offered by Sony were, in part, responsible for Odell’s decision to join the company. “When I joined Sony, my primary purpose was to look after the flexible benefits programme,” she says. “Although I had covered most things in my career, I had never touched flexible benefits and wanted to experience first-hand what it was like.”
Benefits at Sony
- Trust-based defined contribution scheme. Employees must contribute a minimum of 2% for which the employer will put in 4%. Additional matching contributions can be made with the maximum amount depending on an employee’s age
- Private medical insurance as core, with employees able to purchase family cover through flexible benefits scheme
- Employee assistance programme.
- On-site eye tests
- Health screening, dental insurance and critical illness cover available through flex
- Holiday trading available through flex
- Enhanced flexible working policies
- Subsidised gym
- On-site restaurant
- Bus transport to and from local station
Corporate social responsibility perks
- Three days’ paid leave a year to carry out voluntary work
- Payroll-giving available through flex
- Available on Sony products
Sony UK at a glance
Sony UK is a division of Japan’s Sony Corporation, which was founded in 1946 as the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation.
The name Sony was adopted in 1958. It is derived from the Latin word sonus, meaning sound, and the American term ‘sonny boy’, referring to the idea of a bright youngster.
Sony UK was established in London in 1968. Six years later, Sony became the first major Japanese company to open a factory in the UK.
Today, Sony UK operates two factories – in Bridgend and Pencoed, Wales – which manufacture broadcast cameras, television sets, and components for the UK and for export to countries around the world.
The company, which employs about 4,500 staff, is headquartered in Surrey on the site of the former Brooklands motor racing circuit.
In October last year, the Sony Corporation reported a loss for the fourth consecutive quarter.
This followed the company’s announcement in May last year that it was reporting an annual loss of 98.9bn yen (approximately £680m) for the year ending 31 March 2009.
It attributed this to the global economic downturn and the yen’s strength, after its sales and operating revenue fell by 12.9%.
Case study: Perks flexibility is ‘fantastic’
Melanie Long, a personal assistant in Sony UK’s audio video marketing Europe division, has worked for the company for six years.
She describes the company’s benefits package as “fantastic”, especially the choice and flexibility it offers. “It is great that I can choose what I want,” says Long.
However, she favours two key benefits in particular: private medical insurance, which is provided to all staff as core, and holiday trading.
Through Sony UK’s flexible benefits scheme, employees can purchase extra holiday to push their leave up to seven weeks a year. “It is great because if you are going to have a big holiday or something important coming up, it can be accommodated really easily,” says Long.
Last year, for example, she was able to buy extra holiday to enable her to take a holiday to Las Vegas to celebrate her and her husband’s 40th birthdays.
Long says she has also used the legal cover and dental benefits that are available through the company’s flex scheme.