Samsung evolves benefits strategy

Samsung’s focus on innovation runs right through the organisation and its culture, and has been key to the evolution and shaping of its employee benefits strategy.


Engagement is one of Samsung’s primary organisational objectives aimed at helping to recruit and retain employees in a competitive industry, and over the last few years the organisation has been utilising its own technology to help harness and build employee engagement,

Tess Smillie, vice president of human resources at Samsung, says: “We work in a competitive environment with a wide portfolio of people and business. That alone can attract great talent from many places, although we could lose staff to competitors. We have to make a very attractive proposition and engage people in it to be the best in class.

“We could have the best benefits in the world but if it is not what employees want, then it doesn’t really matter. We have a diverse workforce so wanted to offer something they wanted, something that helps retain [staff] and gets them engaged and using their benefits.”

Consolidating benefits to introduce flex


Since 2012, Samsung has been on a journey with its benefits. It has now reached the stage where this year more than 95% of its 1,600 employees logged on to its online flexible benefits portal, Highlights, provided by Thomsons Online Benefits. This is up from 87% in 2013.

Before launching its flexible benefits scheme in 2012, the organisation struggled to engage staff with benefitsDifferent business areas within Samsung offered different benefits, with the only common ground being that all paid into the same pension scheme.

To tackle this issue, Samsung consolidated its offering and the introduction of flexible benefits went some way to changing employees’ mindsets about what the organisation does to give them more than just a good salary.

Joanna Bean, head of reward, UK and Ireland at Samsung, says: “We wanted to come up with a benefits package that allowed us to give employees a flex allowance. It was about giving employees more choice but maintaining a level of fairness.”

For example, the organisation previously offered a gym allowance, which was paid to employees to cover the costs of a gym membership. But when it analysed take-up levels it found that not everyone used the service because they had to provide proof of membership to receive the allowance. To make it fair and not put employees at a disadvantage, Samsung replaced the allowance with GymFlex, a discounted gym membership for employees offered through the flex plan, as well as offering on-site gyms in some locations.

“The goal was not to take everything away, we wanted to make it more personal and give employees more choice, it has also been much easier to administer since the launch,” adds Bean.

Flexible benefits rebrand to boost engagement

However, its flexible benefits scheme only really started to take shape a year later in 2013 following the rebrand of its programme, Highlights, which allowed the organisation to successfully move all of its benefits into an online portal and restructure its communication strategy. The organisation had a complete communications overhaul to help boost engagement.

As well as take up increasing, 86% of employees who logged on felt that Highlights enhanced their overall benefits package.

“We spent a lot of time putting everything into the portal,” says Bean. “This also includes our core benefits so that employees can see the value of that investment we had made in them. We did a lot of communication around the introduction of moving benefits online. We had to. We were not introducing any new benefits that year so had to raise engagement in a different way.”


When introducing new benefits branding, Samsung also gave staff gifts (pictured left) such as Frisbees, pedometers and a piggy bank to highlight its health, wealth and lifestyle benefits categories.

“We really took over the offices,” Bean says. “We did desk drops of goodies that highlighted the categories of benefits: health, wealth and lifestyle. We had a pedometer for health, a Frisbee for lifestyle and a piggy bank for wealth so that everyone had something to remind them of the benefits on offer.”

Smillie adds: “We try to communicate in 360 degrees and do it in a combination of ways. What really helped to boost that engagement was the use of online [materials], text messages, physical things around the office to read and infographics that highlighted the take-up of benefits to show employees what was popular to get them thinking.

“We also highlight an individual benefit each month in the newsletter, and although we have a big push when the window is open, we try and keep it constant with a nice bubble of information.”

The organisation also uses its own technology to enhance engagement and boost the integration and use of its online benefits portal. Employees can use their own Samsung mobile phones, which have the latest Near Field Communications (NFC) software, to reach the portal through the simple tag of a quick-response (QR) code. This gives employees instant access to their flexible benefits scheme.

“If we can’t use it then who can?” says Smillie. “Employees want that integration with their benefits, and using Samsung technology helps us stay connected with our tech-savvy employees to meet their expectations, which has resulted in high take-up.

“They expect benefits and the technology used to be quick and responsive and it is a challenge that we have had to face.”

Focus on improving employee healthcare and wellbeing

This year, the organisation introduced new benefits to flex in response to employee feedback about what they wanted to be included in their package. New options included: season ticket loans, personal accident insurance and a discount dining card. Adding new benefits is all part of the organisation’s aim to offer an extensive employee value proposition, which is a core part of its benefits philosophy.


But the pressure for the organisation is on re-thinking and re-inventing its benefits package to keep employees engaged. “It is very easy to get complacent and let it slip away. It is about keeping it alive which is the biggest challenge,” says Smillie. 

To achieve this, the organisation has now turned its attention to health and wellbeing.

Bean says: “Flexible benefits has evolved so much and continues to do so, but now we are looking more closely at healthcare and wellbeing. It is a big focus for us. We want to show [staff] that we care about them in more ways than one.”

As part of its focus on this area, the organisation has run a number of events and activities for employees, such as on-site personal trainer classes and cycle-to-work days, through which Samsung links staff back to the benefits available.

“It has crept up the agenda for sure,” adds Smillie. “There has been a greater emphasis being placed on employees health and wellbeing but also on their financial wellbeing, which is why we hold our pensions month in Ocotber to make people think about their futures and save for their futures.”

Pension awareness

Samsung’s pensions communication campaign is aimed at improving employee education around pensions, as well as increasing engagement with the benefit. To engage with its diverse workforce demographic, it created ‘pension champions’, drawing on all segments of its workforce profile. The ‘champions’ were fully briefed to provide information to their peers. As a result, its approach won ‘Best pensions communications – small employer’ at the Employee Benefits Awards 2014.

“We are proud of what have done and what we continue to do,” says Bean. “Benefits are always changing and in the industry that we work we have to keep up with that change. Technology is a part of the organisation and a part of increasing our benefits engagement.”


Smillie adds: “What we have done brings to light what we offer. It is not just something where employees simply log on and become disengaged. We do what we do to try and engage employees, making it real and making it interesting to them.

“Employers ask a lot from their employees, and people work hard. At Samsung, benefits is all part of our chairman’s famous quote ‘A company is its people’ and that thread runs through our organisation straight through to the benefits we offer.”

Samsung at a glance:

Samsung, a leading technology organisation in electronics, was founded in South Korea in 1938 and has been operating in the UK for more than 30 years. The organisation produces products such as TVs, smartphones, tablets, PCs, cameras, home appliances and medical devices.

It employs more than 286,000 people globally across 80 different countries with more than 1,600 based in the UK.

Business objectives impacting benefits:

  • To be cost effective while keeping benefits competitive.
  • To keep benefits technology up to date.
  • To support the health and wellbeing of the workforce.

Career history:


Joanna Bean has been at Samsung for more than 12 years, after joining in 2002 as a HR advisor. She held this role for four years before moving to become a senior HR advisor, a position she held for a further six years.

Bean moved into looking after employee benefits in 2011/12 when she became compensation and benefits manager in the UK and Ireland. In March 2014 she took up her current role as head of reward

She says: “We have started from the ground up and rebuilt what we have. But being recognised for our pensions work is a great achievement for not only myself, but also the organisation to have.”


Tess Smillie joined Samsung in 2013 as vice president, human resources.

Smillies’ role is to work in partnership with the organisation’s leaders on all employee aspects of the business to make Samsung a great place to work and develop a career. 

She is an experienced HR leader in the technology industry, having previously held the position of vice president, international HR, at Blackberry. Prior to that, she spent eight years at Microsoft, where she became an international HR director spending time working in India and Asia. 


A defined contribution group personal pension scheme available to all staff and used for auto-enrolment. Some 96% of employees are members of the scheme, which has a sliding scale of contributions for both employees and employer. There is a maximum contribution of 4% for employees and 8.5% for employer.

Healthcare and wellbeing
Dental insurance – flexible benefit
Employee assistance programme – core benefit
Eye tests – core benefit
GymFlex, a discounted gym membership and on-site gyms – flexible benefit
Health assessments for employees and partners – core, depending on grade package or part of flex and volunatary benefits
Health cash plan – core, depending on grade package or part of flex and volunatary benefits
Private medical insurance – core, depending on grade package or part of flex and volunatary benefits
Partner critical illness cover – flex

Group risk
Group income protection – core benefit and flex options
Group life assurance for employees and partners – flexible benefit
Critical illness cover for employees and partners – flexible benefit

Independent financial advice service – voluntary benefit
Independent mortgage advice – voluntary benefit
Pension one-off contribution – voluntary benefit
Personal accident insurance – flexible benefit
Annuity service – core benefit
Pension services – voluntary benefit

Car allowance – core as per grade package, with a minimum of £5,000 and a maximum of £10,000
Childcare vouchers – voluntary benefit
Bikes for work – flexible benefit
Holiday buy and sell (up to five additional days) – flexible benefit
Microsoft home usage package – voluntary benefit
Payroll giving – voluntary benefit
Season ticket loan – voluntary benefit
Tastecard – flexible benefit
Travel insurance – flexible benefit

25 days a year plus bank holidays as standard.
After 10 years of service, employees get an extra day’s holiday for that year.

Other benefits
Long-service awards for five, 10, 20 and above years of service.
Subsidised canteens, in which employees can pay £2 a day to receive a three course western or Korean meal.
Birthday vouchers
Staff discount on Samsung products