Guest opinion: Stephen Tiley, pensions and risk manager, Thomson Directories.

Following the latest benefits fad can often come at a premium and if you really believe that bolstering motivation among teams needn’t cost the earth, then look to traditional offerings

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Benefit packages have become more and more complicated with ever-sophisticated tweaks and more choice. A good thing, of course, but let’s not forget the benefits that, although possibly not in the forefront, are the ones that can count most; and which you can tweak to capture the imagination of your colleagues.

First up is sick pay. Never underestimate the goodwill generated by having a colleague well looked after when a sudden illness or injury strikes. It doesn’t have to be an entitlement; a discretionary benefit over and above the norm can not only gain the long-term goodwill of that employee but the admiration of colleagues as well.

Similarly, in times of pensions cutbacks (where life cover traditionally sits) you could be missing a potentially valuable benefit. This could sit independently of a pension scheme but cover those employees that for one reason or another are not covered by the main pension fund, either because of a waiting period or pensions restructuring. There is nothing worse than if an employee should die with no life cover and colleagues witnessing the possible dire consequences.

On a more cheerful note, do you encourage social activities such as theatre trips, quizzes or day trips? Your employer’s liability insurance cover will normally cover these extra-curricular activities and discounts are usually available for groups. At Thomson Directories, we recently organised a ‘Go Ape’ jungle trek through Bracknell Forest and it was a huge success. Happy employees and at such little cost and effort.

Recognition is also important to employee satisfaction. In sales-orientated organisations this is a must-have, but it should not be confined to sales achievers. We try to include everyone with away days and recognition awards for both length of service and particularly helpful colleagues that go that extra mile. We also actively encourage our suggestion scheme which can provide tax-free rewards. It is still a great motivator to give someone a thank you bottle of wine, especially when unexpected.

Everyone also wants more free time. We have recently introduced a half day on your birthday and it has been really been well received. Extra time off is one of those tax-efficient benefits that is easily forgotten about, but having refreshed staff is not really a cost – they are often more productive.

Other special occasions can be slightly trickier. There is something a bit tacky about the traditional Christmas Party (a la The Office) with memories of embarrassing fumbles behind the photocopier, but a well-organised celebration off site still attracts a slight tax concession and is another opportunity to gel the team and foster good working relationships. It is amazing how cutbacks in this department can breed discontent.

Repackaging a benefit can also ensure staff continue to appreciate it. Company cars, for example, should not be taken for granted. If you provide saloon cars to all and sundry, are you meeting the needs of all your staff or just a few? If accidents are rising is it because of just bad luck or are company car drivers fed up with average cars? We have found that a more flexible approach with the option to flex up to a better car, which often doesn’t cost a lot more due to diminished depreciation, actually encourages drivers to treat their company cars with respect. They have contributed towards the cost of the car and seem to want to keep it in good condition. Eureka. Less accidents and lower insurance premiums.

So don’t let mundane benefits take care of themselves. Exploit what you have by refreshing and enhancing perks. You needn’t have the latest flavour of the month to have a meaningful benefits package and sometimes the more ordinary benefits still work wonders if managed and communicated well.