Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: ‘Fluffy’ perks have hard message in tough times

As 2011 draws to a close, I cannot help but feel it has been a thoroughly tough year, albeit one of hard work and good achievements. But against a backdrop of austerity, every pound earned has been hard won. We are all probably very tired of these tough times, and unfortunately 2012 does not promise much relief.

So it is time to try new tactics to inspire business growth and employee engagement. Topping our list this month, here at Employee Benefits, is environmental benefits. Traditionally dismissed as an eco-warrior nice-to-have, developments in this area have now evolved into real business strategies with significant cost advantages. Our story Green benefits pay off for all delves into new reward ideas that both motivate staff and bring business benefits.

Also falling into the ‘fluffy’ camp are health and wellbeing strategies. But again, done properly with backing from top leadership, these also deliver true business benefits, ranging from reduced long-term absences to being reassured that top executives are less likely to suffer stress-induced heart attacks. There is a reason the government is pushing sickness absence strategies so hard during tough times. According to the Sickness Absence Review, presented to the government on 21 November by Dame Carol Black and David Frost, if the proposed independent assessment service is implemented, “employers stand to gain around £100 million a year from reductions to sick pay bills from using this service”.

What both of these areas have in common is that, far from being luxury add-ons to human resources and business strategies, they are hard to implement and results take time to accumulate. However, employers at the vanguard are already reaping real cost benefits.

The way we live and work is changing and sometimes the biggest changes occur in hard times as people adapt to deal with new realities. Clinging to the old ways, such as “cash is king”, is out of fashion, as can be seen from the outcry over the unfairness of extreme pay rises for FTSE 100 CEOs and City bonuses when the vast majority of workers are seeing their annual pay fall well below the rate of inflation (see Rewarding staff when inflation is high).

Debi O’Donovan, editor

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