How do benefits impact an organisation’s reputation?

Reputation - benefits

Need to know:

  • Engaged employees are more likely to take pride in the organisation they work for and act as brand ambassadors.
  • Careful management, particularly around communication and social media, can limit fall-out in situations where benefits are removed or are insufficient.
  • Going above and beyond legal requirements or the industry norm can influence perceptions of an organisation, on both an employer and commercial brand level.

Hear Vicky Williams, director of people at the Lawn Tennis Association, discuss how to achieve business goals through people and performance strategy on 11 October 2016 at Employee Benefits Live

Research by Opinium and the Public Relations Consultants Association, published in June 2015, found that 20% of employee respondents are ashamed of their current or previous employer, 35% of whom say this is because the organisation treats its employees badly. Meanwhile, less than two-thirds (64%) of employee respondents consider the reputation of the organisation they work for as good, of which just 23% consider it to be very good.

So how could an organisation’s approach to employee benefits impact its reputation, both as an employer and as a business? What advantages can a good corporate reputation bring? And what might an organisation need to consider in order to avoid, or best manage, reputational risk?

Staying ahead of the curve

One way in which employers may be able to strengthen their reputation as a great place to work is by going above and beyond expectations or the market norm. Scott McKenzie, joint managing director and head of change and employee engagement at Lansons, says: “Be a trailblazer. Essentially what [employers] want to demonstrate is that they care about employees and they’re trying to put the best package together they possibly can based on the type of workplace they want to be and the type of culture they want to foster.”

This thinking could also apply to legal requirements, for example, the introduction of the national living wage or gender pay reporting. While compliance is required, and employee expectation of this may, therefore, somewhat limit the reputation-enhancing scope of going above and beyond the minimum requirements, an employer’s approach to legislation could still have an impact on how it is perceived.

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Jelf Employee Benefits, says: “Do things early and do things because you can, not because you have to.”

Yet, the potential positive impact of voluntary action that exceeds legal requirements will only be felt if it is communicated to staff effectively, he adds. “As long as [employers] tell employees in advance that they think this is the right thing to do and explain why they are doing it, then they will get engagement,” says Herbert. “And if they get engagement then they will get improved productivity, and improved reputation as well.”

However, in certain circumstances, going above and beyond may not always be possible. Legislation, and therefore how employers respond to this, may also be perceived differently across different sectors, says Martha How, reward partner at Aon Employee Benefits.

Likewise, implementing a benefits strategy that is not appropriate for an organisation’s particular aims, workforce demographic and operating environment may be counterproductive. “Alignment with the business agenda and the structure of the business is really important,” adds How.

Managing risk

While an engaging benefits proposition can help to position an organisation as an attractive place to work, certain omissions or changes to a benefits package could damage an employer’s reputation in the eyes of its staff, and perhaps those of potential recruits or even customers. One such area is the closure of defined benefit (DB) pension schemes, says How. The risk of fall-out, however, can be limited where these scenarios are well managed. In the case of DB scheme closures, this could include clear and honest communications about the commercial reality behind such closures, alongside a degree of protection for those approaching retirement age, explains How.

The lack of adequate group risk benefits, such as income protection or death-in-service benefits, could also pose a moral and reputational risk if an employee or their dependants are unsupported in times of crisis and find themselves in dire financial straits, says John Deacon, head of corporate solutions at Xerox HR Services. This can have an immediate impact on the way in which colleagues of the affected employee or, in the case of death in service, the deceased employee’s family, perceive their employer.

“There’s also then the potential for external damage to an organisation’s reputation, because nowadays it doesn’t take more than a second for someone to put something on Twitter or any other social media site,” adds Deacon.

Employers can take steps to prevent these situations from occurring, such as ensuring there is a minimum core level of cover and educating staff about why these benefits are important, says Deacon.

The rise of information

In today’s online world, prospective employees and customers can quickly find information and opinions about an organisation, including employee reviews on social media and sites such as Glassdoor. James Gooding, deputy manager at Top Employers UK, says: “People are a lot more empowered and informed about organisations than they used to be. Jobseekers can easily search and see what news has come out about the organisation they are interviewing for.”

Although this could be seen as a concern when it comes to managing reputation, it can also be viewed as an opportunity. Providing a certain level of information about its benefits package and workplace ethos on its website, or using internal or external online platforms to share real-life examples of when a benefit has helped an employee or where staff have been rewarded through a workplace recognition scheme, for example, could help to bolster an organisation’s reputation as a caring employer. “It’s important for organisations to mention what’s unique about them in the right places, such as recruitment advertising, employer branding, and ensuring recruiters that work on behalf of an organisation are armed with that insight,” says Gooding.

External recognition

Employers could also share information about external recognition and accolades they have received, such as Top Employer and Great Place to Work awards, or achieving a ranking on The Sunday Times’ Best Companies list.

These awards, like the benefits propositions and workplace cultures that can help employers win them, can become one of the many building blocks that establish an employer’s reputation. In turn, this can serve to differentiate an organisation from its competitors, such as when trying to attract a recruit who has the choice between similar roles with similar levels of pay at two different organisations. David Dolding, director of consulting at Portus Consulting, says: “Most people want their work to be interesting, and if they see that an organisation has been recognised as a great place to work or that [it has] won a number of industry awards, then they might think that there’s something more about this organisation [than another].”

Independent recognition can also have a positive impact on current employees, fostering a sense of pride in the organisation they work for and demonstrating that their employer is focused on supporting and investing in its staff. “Externally, it lets the public know that an organisation is doing something right and is looking after its people, so it can certainly help enhance reputation, both from an employer brand standpoint and also a commercial brand standpoint,” adds Gooding.

However, organisations may want to look at the broader picture when considering how best to communicate these awards. “If times are tough it might not be prudent for an organisation to make a [fanfare] about winning something,” says Gooding. “But then again, used cautiously, it could be a good piece of positive news to help turn the tide on negative feelings in a business.”

Continuous commitment and communication

Lansons and Opinium’s 2016 Britain at work report, published in April 2016, found that 19% of respondents are employer ‘promoters’ in the sense that they are very likely to recommend the organisation they work for to others, while almost half (49%) are ‘detractors’. This is a particularly concerning figure when considering the significant role that employees can play as brand ambassadors.

A comprehensive benefits programme can offer support and value to employees, providing a knock-on impact on engagement, loyalty and employees’ perceptions of the organisation they work for, therefore, potentially, the way they advocate their employer to others. Yet, a continuous communication effort is required if employees are to understand and make the most of the full value of the benefits available to them.

“If [employers] don’t tell people what they’ve done and why they’ve done it then they won’t appreciate it,” says Herbert. “If [employers communicate] well and keep telling employees that they are receiving top-of-the-range benefits and explain why, eventually that [information] will also start leaking out to the general public.

“At the end of the day, getting a good reputation as an organisation takes years and it can easily be trashed in a matter of minutes if you get it wrong, so it’s an ongoing commitment.”

Bibby Financial ServicesBibby Financial Services looks to total reward proposition to help it stand out from the crowd

Bibby Financial Services achieved 31st place in the 2016 Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list, moving up 19 places from its 2015 ranking. This is the fifth time that the organisation has ranked in the top 100.

The organisation, which employs approximately 780 people in the UK, shared the news of its achievement through a range of channels, including an email from the global chief executive to all staff across the firm’s international locations. The listing was also communicated via posters, window stickers, at team meetings, and the chief executive shared the pride he felt in the organisation receiving the accolade through a video blog posted on Bibby Financial Services’ intranet.

Vicky Smith, reward manager at Bibby Financial Services, says: “We’re very proud to be a Sunday Times’ Best Company to Work For. The fact that we were 95th back in 2011 and we’ve jumped up to 31st in 2016 is testament to how much we are listening to our employees and providing for them.”

In 2012, the invoice finance specialist refreshed its reward proposition, which has helped to serve as a differentiator in what can be a competitive industry. In addition to its employee benefits package, Bibby’s holistic approach to its total reward offering includes professional development opportunities and the chance to work at one of its international offices.

“If [someone] is making the decision to come and join us or to stay with Bibby then we really think that reward can be a differentiator,” says Smith. “We have worked hard on listening to our employees, taking on board feedback and then sharing that back with them.”

Following employee feedback, three new benefits were introduced in 2015: a will-writing service, money-saving tool Money Boost, and subsidised cancer screening provided by Bluecrest. The new benefits were available through the organisation’s annual flex window in November 2015, which achieved a 99% engagement rate.

Goodman MassonGoodman Masson receives external recognition for its innovative approach

Over the last few years, financial recruitment organisation Goodman Masson has received a significant amount of external recognition for its workplace culture, reward strategy and its innovative approach to employee engagement, including first place in Great Place to Work’s UK Best Workplaces 2015, medium category.

Goodman Masson engages its 150-strong workforce throughout the awards process, informing staff if it intends to enter a particular award, communicating the entry process and then updating them as to whether or not it has been successful.

Guy Hayward, chief executive officer at Goodman Masson, says: “The most important thing for me is that we deliver our ambition to treat our people better than anyone else in the UK, which is remarkably bold, but when you receive a number-one ranking, first you feel quite humbled, but second I think it’s confirmation that the uniqueness of what we’re doing is working.”

The organisation offers its employees a range of benefits through its Benefits Boutique programme, which aims to provide staff with choice and access to benefits that are relevant to them through different stages in their life. This includes a mortgage fund, student loan fund, exotic holiday fund, knowledge fund, and home improvement and new parent loans, among others. “When you put all of that together and if I consider why people have stayed with us and why people have joined us, then one of those components has most definitely been our approach to pay and reward,” says Hayward.

Last year, 25 employees went on long-distance holidays through the exotic holiday fund, four people benefitted from the new parent loan, and seven took up the home improvement loan scheme. The student loan programme has helped three people pay off their student debt, and 34 employees are making use of the mortgage fund, which has helped three employees become homeowners so far this year.

Hayward adds: “People now expect more from their employer, I think they expect greater choice in how they receive their income and that they want that linked to their current lifestyle and the current challenges that they face.”


John Lewis WaitroseJohn Lewis Partnership works to ensure benefits add value

For the John Lewis Partnership, employee benefits are one of a number of elements that have helped to establish its reputation as a great place to work. The organisation encompasses John Lewis and Waitrose, and all of its 90,000 members of staff are partners in the business.

Rachael Abbott, benefits development manager at the John Lewis Partnership, says: “Benefits are part of the whole, it’s also about our history, philosophy and culture.”

The retailer continually works to ensure that its benefits proposition is relevant to its workforce, which includes a range of roles, locations and working environments. “It’s trying to make sure the proposition has the right breadth and depth to be relevant to the vast majority of partners,” says Abbott.

The organisation has introduced new benefits over the last year to support the everyday needs of its staff. This includes a salary sacrifice arrangement for mobile devices and a financial education programme, My Financial Choices, provided by a third party. The financial education scheme provides seminars on location and access to one-to-one sessions.

“Offering some form of financial education now is really important,” explains Abbott. “It’s also about trying to recognise what we think will add value to our partners.”

The John Lewis Partnership’s benefits team constantly keeps the benefits proposition under review so that it continues to provide value to its employees both now and in the future. While the organisation’s benefits programme and its longstanding employer reputation serve as a differentiator when it comes to employee attraction and retention, it wants to ensure that the benefits it offers remain relevant, valuable and appealing.

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“We are a different type of business, the happiness of our partners is enshrined in our constitution, it’s the first principle,” says Abbott. “Having a rich and broad benefits offer supports partner happiness and is part of the deal partners get in being co-owners.”

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