Alignment to business strategy is key to benefit plan success

Employers with plans to refresh their employee benefits package should start by ensuring that they understand their organisation’s business strategy, according to Raffaela Goodby (pictured), head of organisational development, engagement and wellbeing at Birmingham City Council.

Speaking at Employee Benefits Live on 26 September, Goodby said: “If [an employer] is reviewing their benefits package, or about to start out, or looking for a bit of a refresh, [they should] closely align what [they] want to do with their benefits package with [their] business strategy,” she said.

“This is really important because one, [an employer can] get senior [director] level buy-in and [two], [they] can demonstrate how [they are] adding value to [their] business.” This, she said, is key to ensuring the successful delivery of a benefits package.

Employers should also identify their engagement measures at the outset of their project. “What impact [does an employer] want [their] employee benefits offering to achieve and how [are they] going to deliver that?,” she added.

Birmingham City Council refreshed its employee benefits package in 2011 with a view to re-engage employees. This followed an employee survey in 2009, which found that less than half of its employees felt positive about its benefits offering.

The project included a relaunch of the organisation’s existing benefits, including its employee discount scheme, My Birmingham Rewards Gateway, which is offered through Asperity Employee Benefits. It also included the introduction of new products, including a bikes-to-work scheme.

“Our focus was to recommunicate our employee value proposition,” explained Goodby.

“In the public service and local government, we can’t offer a job for life any more, and there’s lots of uncertainty. [Employees] are having to work in much more flexible ways and learn new skills to take on other people’s work and work harder, so what can we offer them in return for that?

“We can’t offer them annual incremented pay progression and there’s no cost of living increase, so we had to look at no-cost, or very low- cost options to offer to the workforce.

“So, what we wanted to do through our benefits package refresh was create a perceived increase in pay without actually giving them an increase in pay.”

The benefits package was aligned to the council’s business strategy by including local business services, in line with the employer’s commitment to supporting the local Birmingham economy. 

 “We’re a huge organisation with 46,000 staff, and spend billions of pounds each year on service on service delivery, and we have a lot of purchasing power as part of that, and so in our [benefits] provision, we’ve used that purchasing power for the benefit of employees.”

This has involved the integration of local business services, such as hotel accommodation, into the employer’s discount scheme, which means that employees can now access hotel discounts via the rewards gateway, instead of having to independently access discounts via each local business.

“That [approach] helped us get [the benefits package] through procurement [sign off] because [our strategy] was speaking to [the council’s] business strategy as well as to [its] HR strategy, which was around employee engagement.”

Employee engagement at the council increased from 49.4% in November 2011 to 59.1% in May 2013 as a result of the benefits package refresh.

Some 9,000 Birmingham City Council employees have spent £3m and made £210,000 worth of savings through the reward gateway since it launched in 2011.