What can employers learn from Facebook’s and Netflix’s benefits strategies?


Need to know:

  • Many organisations today offer enhanced work-life balance benefits such as bereavement leave, 12-months’ paid parental leave, and unlimited holiday.
  • While these benefits are not industry-specific, an employer looking to implement similar schemes must assess if they suit the work and job roles in their organisation, as well as if these fit with the business’s culture and values.
  • Financial constraints mean employers may have to be innovative with the benefits they offer: schemes such as flexible-working arrangements can be just as valuable to employees as monetary benefits.

A household name, the brand Facebook has become synonymous with connecting individuals with family and friends wherever they are in the world. But behind the little blue and white ‘f’ on everyone’s smartphone lies an organisation that wants to help balance employees’ work and home lives, and is proud to shout about the benefits it offers. It has been ranked one of the best employers for pay and benefits in the UK by Glassdoor for the past three years.

In February 2017, Facebook introduced an enhanced bereavement leave policy which allows employees to take up to 20 days of paid leave to grieve for an immediate family member, as well as six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative.

Back in 2015, meanwhile, media streaming service Netflix introduced unlimited maternity and paternity leave for employees in the first year after a child’s birth or adoption. Netflix also offers an unlimited leave policy.

These schemes, along with similar initiatives offered in many organisations, were introduced with the purpose of ensuring employees’ home-life responsibilities or pressures are taken care of, which, in turn, leads to a happier, more motivated and ultimately more productive workforce.

While this paternalistic approach to employees’ work-life balance is not new, it is certainly becoming more commonplace. So, can employers in other sectors replicate what these internet giants are doing, perhaps with smaller budgets or with bigger financial pressures?

Are benefits strategies industry specific?

Offering these types of benefits is not necessarily dependent on the industry sector, although attracting and retaining the right talent for an organisation is a key factor in any reward strategy. James Malia, director of employee benefits at Sodexo Engage, says: “[These employers] are in a very competitive environment where people are generally well paid but they can also be very selective. They are [organisations] that people want to work for, they are in a certain type of skillset, therefore, it is all about the extras because it can’t all be about money.”

Employers in the internet industry, Facebook, Netflix and Google et al, are fast-growing organisations and the fight for talent is fierce. Offering enhanced benefits over and above a usual package will help set an employer apart from its competitors.Gonzalo Shoobridge, head of action consultancy at Great Place to Work, says: “Unfortunately it’s quite complicated to attract and retain talent in that specific industry. [Employers] need highly qualified and educated people in those specific areas. It’s so competitive that, because of the competition and the labour market, especially the hi-tech giants, they really need to offer these specific benefits just to attract talent and keep it there, and to beat the competition. And to keep on growing, because the only way they can grow is by attracting talent.”

It is not only the internet and hi-tech organisations that offer benefits such as these, however, for a strategy to include these it heavily depends on the type of work employees are carrying out. Mark Childs, managing director at Total Reward Group, says: “It’s a more employee-centred approach to provision, and western societies are more self-centred in their approach to many things, including benefits provision. A lot of [employees] in western societies think about benefits as ‘what’s right for me?’ And they work best in environments which are dominated by knowledge workers.

“So [these benefits] show up in organisations, technology companies for example, where employees can work on the same role in different places, they don’t have to be in a physical workplace for a certain number of hours. [Employers have] got to start from where the business is at and understand the practical realities.”

A cultural fit

While employers can take home ideas or suggestions from peers, the addition of any benefit has to align with an organisation’s existing culture and values. Yves Duhaldeborde, director at Willis Towers Watson, says: “That’s probably the hardest part, finding something that is really in tune with the culture and values of [the] business, and also the realities of [the] business. Some of the things for example that [other employers] are implementing may not be really practical and feasible for a big chunk of the population in some [organisations].”

Getting the right fit for the culture is essential, adds Chieu Cao, co-founder of Perkbox: “Benefits that are tailored to [the] business and [the] culture are the most important things, rather than just having a competing checklist. So understanding staff and what age groups they are [for example] are they millennials, are they a mixed group of individuals? And from there start formulating what’s appropriate.”

Benefits provision is an expression of an organisation’s culture, it is a communication vehicle that the employer can use to convey its messages. Perkbox offers its own employees benefits such as free snacks and breakfasts, hang out areas and ping pong tables, but it also wants to instil a sense of ownership in the team and offers a share option scheme, explains Cao. “The strategy that we have sends a clear message that we care as a company,” he says. “It’s not just the physical, ‘go do your work’; it’s about empathy and that translates to a really sound and robust culture. If the team feels valued and appreciated, they form this emotional bond with the business, it drives engagement [and] with engagement there is a clear link to productivity. Happy teams work hard and go above and beyond what is asked of them. It’s all linked to providing a great workplace experience.”

Today’s most forward-looking workplaces are increasingly centred around elements that ensure employees’ wellbeing is well managed during their working day, offering perks such as sleeping pods for daytime naps, on-site restaurants, bars for Friday night drinks, running tracks and onsite gyms. The devil’s advocate would question whether there is an element of subliminal control in offering these perks, albeit wrapped up in a positive package, for example, should employers control what employees eat, how much they exercise, how much sleep they have? It goes deeper than simply saying the employer is in control in order to have an impact on productivity and the bottom line, it is about reaching the root of what motivates an employee and how employers can support that in the workplace.

When Facebook introduced its enhanced bereavement leave and paid family leave policies, the message was quite clear that employees’ wellbeing was at the heart of the initiatives. A statement at the time from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, said: “People should be able both to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off. We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and ageing parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss.”

The constant change in UK organisations can also result in pressures that employees have to face in their working days, says Duhaldeborde. “Mentally and physically it can take its toll,” he says “If [employers] start thinking there will be strain put on colleagues: ‘what can we do to alleviate that?’ Around wellbeing there are things that can be done that cost next to nothing but go a really long way.”

Indeed, supporting personal lives in the public arena of a workplace cannot always come with a big budget;, particularly given employers today often find themselves under financial pressures such as budgeting for rises in the national living wage and increases to pension contribution rates under auto-enrolment legislation. So what can they do? “I think they have to innovate,” says Childs.  “Their best opportunity is to innovate around flexible working, giving people the opportunity to state a clear preference for the hours and days that they want to work, to be more accommodating of individual’s preferences.”

Trust plays a key part in offering benefits such as 12-months paid parental leave, unlimited holiday or flexible-working arrangements. But employers that promote this message of trust will see the payback in increased motivation and productivity. “By offering a lot of these benefits, whether that’s unlimited holiday or ‘work when you like’, employers are empowering the employee,” says Malia. “They’re saying ‘you’ve got a job to do, this is what we expect from you month-on-month’, and I’m sure that’s quite clearly managed. Giving employees that trust and saying, ‘it’s up to you’, is a really nice message, and something employers will have to think carefully about.”

Employees will join an organisation because of their attraction to the employer brand and their identification with the culture and values. Promoting benefits that support this will strengthen the employer proposition in a war for talent attraction and retention. “Little perks that are cultural […] spin it back to quality of life, work-life balance and time with family,” says Malia. “It’s great to love being at work, but it’s getting that balance; as an employer it’s recognising that [an employee’s] home life is as if, not more, important than their work life.”