Outbox – Guest opinion

If you take 67,000 employees, measure their performance, assess their key skills and evaluate their personal development, what’s the one thing that you can be sure of? They’re all different. While there may be broad skills and common development areas by which we can group our employees, the one thing we can’t influence, but which undoubtedly shapes an individual, is their social environs and what they want from a job.

Every team member has different needs, interests and personal circumstances. Our experience has shown that considering and recognising this individuality is critical when designing a benefits programme, and it might be a key differentiator.

Be it 67 or 67,000 employees, benefit directors must treat every employee as an individual and understand that they use their free time and income in very different ways. They therefore want different things from their jobs and their reward packages.

At Whitbread, we can help with our employees’ leisure needs, such as dining out, weekend breaks and leisure club membership. Our staff want to feel special by receiving discounts at their place of work, and at other brands in the Whitbread group. Crucially they want to know Whitbread appreciates that there is more to their lives than just where they work. Other things occupy their time, be it the weekly shop, getting new prescription glasses or taking the children to a theme park.

We’ve discovered that the answer to the benefits puzzle is to view our staff as consumers themselves and offer benefits that match the demands placed upon them, for example, as a parent or a carer, which, in turn, will boost their access to improved work-life balance.

But to do this, employee research and deep understanding is absolutely vital. There is no way any company would invest in a new product’s conception, design and launch without knowing if there is a market for it. So why not take the same approach with staff and ask them what they want rather than telling them what they want, or worse, just giving them what we think they want?

Consultation with employees is highly recommended as it will underpin the success of the benefit providers the organisation selects. In turn, this will help to secure board buy-in, ensure staff take advantage of the offers available to them, and help us, as benefits directors, to find the middle of the maze.

What it then comes down to is offering choice to employees to support their lifestyles. We offer discounts within Whitbread brands and within three other broad categories: financial, wellbeing and lifestyle, for example, special rates for holiday, home or health insurance; hair, beauty and fitness products or services; and discounts to attractions or holiday destinations.

It’s by no means an overnight solution, but by taking measured steps to reflect industry and employee desires, our experience has shown it is possible to navigate your way through the maze.