As one of the UK’s biggest home entertainment and communications providers, Sky aims to keep its customers connected, via television, broadband and telephone.
Its products, such as Sky 3D and Sky Talk, also help its employees to stay connected to the Sky experience, which is at the heart of its benefits package.
Tom Gardner, reward and employment tax manager at Sky, says: “It is absolutely imperative that our employees are totally up to speed with our content and product range, because we serve our customers with Sky people.
“Every employee at Sky has a full free Sky package, free Sky broadband package and discounted telephony. We always try to expand on that when the product mix and technology changes. We did a big push last year to launch a 3D TV channel, so we enabled employees to purchase a 3D TV as part of their benefits selection.”
John Whitaker, benefits consultant at Sky, adds: “A lot of what we do is to make our employees advocates for our Sky brands and Sky content.”
In 2012, Sky refreshed its voluntary benefits with an iPad scheme, which gave staff the opportunity to buy an iPad through a salary sacrifice arrangement. The initiative helped Sky win the award for ‘Best voluntary benefits plan’ at the Employee Benefits Awards 2013.
The scheme was popular with Sky employees, with nearly 50% taking advantage of the offer. Whitaker says: “In the feedback from that, employees said they wanted the scheme again and would like other products included.
“That led to us launching the 3D TV via salary sacrifice, as well as re-running the iPad scheme in 2013. We are doing it again this year, based on feedback, and it’s not just iPads but a wider range of tablet devices.”
Connecting benefits to the business
Gardner adds: “We know we get a massive business benefit from our employees really knowing and loving our products and content. That is probably the single most direct way that we have connected the benefits package to the business.
“It works fantastically well for us, because when you look at the spend on employee benefits, actually providing free products doesn’t come at a huge cost in the round. It probably gets us the most engagement with the benefits package, but it also has the best link with business goals.”
As well as using its staff to advocate its products, Sky also uses them to advocate its benefits programme. Whitaker says: “We capture good news stories and put them on our intranet, featuring employees who have good news stories to tell us because of the benefits we offer and the ways they engage with them, how the benefits help them in their daily lives.
“For instance, an employee had a son who was not very well, but because he had access to an iPad and the Sky Go service, he was able to entertain his son in hospital. People stories like this are really engaging for our employees.”
The organisation took the same approach for a campaign on total reward statements in 2013. Gardner says: “We led up to it, over 10 days, with stories of how employees had really benefited from the benefits package, such as a contact centre employee in Leeds who said the travel scheme saved her loads of money.”
When Sky relaunched its three- and five-year sharesave schemes in September 2013, it included case studies from employees who were already saving through the schemes. “We basically went out and asked people to tell us what they have used their gains for,” says Gardner. “For example, there was one employee who paid for his daughter’s wedding.
“When you are talking about benefits, you are basically talking about what Sky does to make people’s lives better or easier. Asking our employees to sell the story themselves is the most effective way.”
Sky has very engaged employees who are encouraged to provide feedback in an annual engagement survey. It also puts an engagement survey at the heart of any benefits that it launches or relaunches.
Staff participation in benefits is very high. For instance, 94% of Sky’s workforce belong to its trust-based defined contribution (DC) pension scheme after it auto-enrolled about 4,000 employees on 1 April 2013.
Whitaker says: “For most of our benefits, we see double-digit engagement across the workforce, which means there is a real reason for the benefit.
“Employees are telling us they want these benefits, so it is a tighter framework of benefits. This gives us the ability to ensure employees are engaged and understand the value of the benefits.”
Sky communicates benefits to its staff through various channels, including employee case studies, which are featured on the intranet, benefits fairs, letters to employees’ home addresses, posters, emails and staff forums.
“It all starts with our benefits brand, My Sky Rewards,” says Gardner. “It cuts across the portal we run, where people can access their benefits. It also ties into all the other communications we do.”
The organisation also uses social media tool Chatter, for which 1,500 employees have signed up. Whitaker says: “We put news about benefits up there and they provide feedback to us. They then start having this public conversation, saying ‘We would like TVs’ or ‘Have you thought about non-iPad devices or dental insurance or X, Y and Z?’. It gets that two-way conversation happening. They tell us what they want and we can see how we can put that in place.”
Sky has just come to the end of a three-year plan for its benefits package and is preparing for its next three-year plan. But with such high levels of employee engagement already, where does it go next?
“The challenge for us at the moment, and it’s a nice problem to have, is to continue to raise the bar,” says Gardner. “With such great engagement come great expectations.”
Sky at a glance
Sky is one of the leading home entertainment, broadband and telephony providers in the UK and Ireland.
It was launched in 1989 as a direct-to-home satellite television service with four channels, including Sky News, Europe’s first 24-hour news channel. In 1990, it merged with British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) and became known as BSkyB, or just Sky.
Over the years, it has launched Sky Sports (1991), entered the FTSE 100 (1995), expanded into broadband with the acquisition of telecoms networking organisation Easynet (2005), and has acquired Virgin Media Television (2010) and The Cloud, the UK’s public Wi-Fi network (2011).
Today, Sky has 10.5 million TV customers, more than five million broadband customers and an operating profit, at 30 June 2013, of £595 million.
It has about 22,000 full-time employees throughout the UK, and 900 in Ireland.
Current business challenges
- Increasing competition, such as BT, across its core areas.
- A focus on consolidating growth and finding new ways to integrate the business. For example, there are big opportunities in its customer base in terms of people who do not take up broadband.
- Looking towards collateral businesses, such as business-to-business and advertising.
John Whitaker has been a benefits consultant at Sky since January 2013.
Before that, he was senior benefits consultant for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at global information company IHS, a role that included the management of benefits scheme design, supplier management and benefits harmonisation after acquisitions.
Before taking an in-house role at IHS in April 2012, Whitaker was US project manager at Asperity Employee Benefits, manager of reward at Equiniti, product manager at Lloyds TSB and business analyst at Knexus.
He says he is proud of Sky’s 2013 relaunch of a salary sacrifice scheme for iPads, with the addition of televisions. “The amount of engagement we got from that, I’ve never seen across any other employee benefits scheme I’ve been involved in, either on the client side or the supplier side. Just to see that energy from Sky employees was quite unique.”
Tom Gardner joined Sky five years ago as an employment tax manager on the finance side of the business. In September 2011, he moved into HR as reward and employment tax manager.
Gardner previously worked at Deloitte UK, where he was a manager in global employer services. “I was involved in human capital consulting, tax consulting and employee benefits consulting,” he says.
At Sky, he is proud of the Sky Choices iPad launch, which won an Employee Benefits Award in 2013.
- Trust-based defined contribution scheme.
- Double-matched employer contributions to a maximum of 8%.
- About 4,000 employees were auto-enrolled on 1 April 2013.
- A healthcare trust, available to all staff.
- Physiotherapy, which is in addition to the trust’s out-patient limit.
- On-site physiotherapy at some locations.
- An employee assistance programme.
- Health screening.
- Group income protection (GIP) linked to the pension and is a percentage of salary for up to five years.
- Pension members receive life assurance at four-times salary. Non-members receive two times salary.
- Sky World package, including access to free films and sports.
- Free broadband.
- Discounted telephone services.
- Tablet and Sky TV purchase via a salary sacrifice arrangement.
- Free access to Wi-Fi through The Cloud.