Douglas Ross, corporate human resources manager, Roche: Flexibility is key to offering the right package

An attractive benefits package is key in attracting and retaining talented employees, especially in an economic downturn. An increasing focus on work-life balance, flexible working and personalised packages allows employers to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to reward.

This was certainly the case for Roche. We have used staff feedback to develop a flexible benefits package, offering employees a number of benefits while allowing them to choose how much they use each one.

Flex is a hot topic for HR professionals. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) observes firms introduce flex as a wider move towards a more flexible working environment, and that such schemes increase the perceived value of reward package at no additional cost. But it warns flexible benefits are not a magic solution and need to be managed as part of an integrated reward strategy with clear goals and excellent support processes.

The practice of flexible benefits is expected to increase as new software becomes available and the cost of implementation decreases, enabling more organisations to set up schemes.

Two perks considered core to a package are an occupational pension and private medical insurance (PMI). According to the PMI packages uncovered study by patient group Beating Bowel Cancer, staff rate these as the top two employer-provided benefits. For employers, PMI is an essential part of any benefits package as it can help sick employees return to work sooner.

But some employers are concerned that the cost of PMI might be disproportionate to the benefits gained. Roche feels this does not have to be the case. There are various benefit design options for PMI. Some, for instance, allow staff to make trade-offs between items that are important to them, such as cover for the latest cancer therapies, versus cover for more routine, low-cost services, such as chiropractics. It is vital a PMI scheme does not exclude people who have a history of, for example, heart or lung disease.

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It is our responsibility, as HR professionals, to understand and appreciate the value of flexibility and choice in benefits provision, to be able to offer the right options to address the needs of both the organisation and staff.

Douglas Ross, corporate human resources manager, Roche