When Ashford Borough Council took the decision to overhaul its benefits strategy in 2011, one of its key motivations was to create a system that would help it attract and retain talent at a time when the public sector was not seen as an attractive destination.
Susanna Aiano, personnel projects and staff engagement officer, says: “We were not content with a strategy that would just fulfil short-term expectations, we needed something for the long-term benefits of recruitment and retention.
“The development of Ashford is moving at an astonishing rate and with such excellent high-speed rail links to London and Europe we set out to hold our own for years to come against other organisations for the best candidates.”
As a result, the council launched My Ashford Rewards; an online benefits platform, provided by Reward Gateway, offering staff a wide range of retail discounts, including some negotiated at a local level. It also incorporates its childcare voucher and bikes-for-work schemes. “It means that our benefits strategy is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Aiano. “By giving employees increased choice and flexibility they can really pick and choose how they reap their rewards.”
Over the last six years the council has evolved the site, including linking it to wellbeing initiatives, a smoking-cessation scheme and employee assistance programme (EAP). It also plans to introduce e-recognition cards through the platform in the future to reward employee performance.
Despite a competitive local recruitment market, the council has not suffered from retention or recruitment difficulties since 2011; something it attributes at least in part to the employee benefits on offer. “We believe that staff morale and the nurturing work environment based on flexibility and employee benefits has had a massive positive impact on our overall goals and objectives, firstly in attraction and retention and secondly in productivity,” says Aiano.
“It is difficult to say how our recruitment and retention would have fared had we not taken this decisive action when we did, but as the anticipated challenges have not come to fruition I would say that is pretty good future-proofing.”