RHP refreshes its benefits strategy with a renewed focus on personalisation

RHP Group holds a strong belief that it can only deliver its business by having amazing employees who are fully committed to serving its customers. To this end, its fundamental people strategy revolves around looking after its employees and ensuring it has a reward strategy in place that provides a personalised suite of benefits.

Lucy Graley, executive director of people and business services, explains that the organisation recognises that salary is just a small part of working lives at the social housing association, and that everyone is faced with different challenges, or are at different career and life stages. “Benefits, for us, are another way of recognising how we can support our employees to be the best of who they are,” she says. “So we look at it from lots of different lenses in terms of wellbeing, finance, mental wellbeing as well, through to if [they’ve] got family, whether that’s children, carers, elderly parents, through to what might matter to [them] as an individual, whether that is going on holidays or saving up for a house, all of those types of things.

“What we try to do is make sure that our benefits recognise that we have a whole range of amazing people who work for us, and therefore, how can we support them to be the absolute best of who they are, whether that’s at home or at work.”

Benefits refresh

Prior to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, RHP had been developing a new benefits strategy which built upon the aim of supporting employees in their whole lives. “We were planning on launching a refreshed version of our benefits package, which is called Life Matters, in April [2020], but then the pandemic came along,” explains Chloë Marsh, head of people and engagement. “We thought it was a great time just to pause and reflect on this changing environment: what we needed to adapt to meet those needs and support individuals in some slightly different areas and different ways due to the pandemic.

“One of the two themes we’d been focusing on anyway for this refreshed strategy was around flexibility, because a key part of our overall people engagement strategy is to create a personalised end-to-end employee experience. We were looking to build in more flexibility into our benefits, so they can meet people’s changing individual needs, but also meet their changing life priorities. The second was wellbeing; at the heart of our Life Matters package is wellbeing, the strapline for it is live well at work, rest and play. We know that we have to look at look at benefits and wellbeing holistically, whether at work or home, we want something that meets everybody’s needs. So we had a great foundation in place actually with those two areas of focus.”

The pandemic meant that RHP expanded on these two key themes in order to support employees through the uncertain times, perhaps if they had caring responsibilities for elderly parents, or had to home-school their children.

“That focus on wellbeing and particularly mental health has just been absolutely essential to support employees through these changing times,” says Marsh. “We ended up launching the new strategy in August, instead of April, so it was a little bit of a delay, but I’m really glad that we took that breath and reflected a bit because there were some changes we made as a result.”

Wellbeing focus

With the launch of its refreshed benefits strategy, RHP introduced a wellbeing allowance in August 2020: every employee has £30 a month to spend on something that supports their wellbeing. Previously, the employer allowed staff to claim back for gym memberships or a Headspace app, for example, but, in recognising that wellbeing can mean many different things to different people, it introduced the allowance to offer more choice. “[Employees] can use it for gym memberships or digital gym apps, if [their] focus is more on physical health, and [they] could still claim back for a meditation app or online yoga courses. But we recognise that feeling well is sometimes just about rest and maybe escapism, so [they] can even claim back for Netflix or Spotify, or do a combination,” says Marsh.

Employees also have access to the Togetherall platform, a mental wellbeing platform run by clinical professionals that provides support tools and resources. RHP also has a team of Mind Matters champions who are trained mental health first aiders. “We introduced them a couple of years ago but they have really have played a big role in terms of the support we give to people with mental wellbeing during the pandemic,” says Marsh. “They’ve also run a few talks which people have responded really well to because when you’re working apart, people just miss those simple connections over a cuppa.”

In addition to the wellbeing allowance, RHP also introduced financial wellbeing support in the form of salary advance which enables employees to drawdown their pay as they earn it, making it easier to budget.

Tailored reward offering

As well as making a lot of positive changes, RHP has also look at its pension offering to make sure it’s managing the long-term risks to the organisation. Graley explains: “We did have a defined benefit pension scheme which we have now changed to a defined contribution scheme. The whole point of the change was to manage risk to the business but also parity across the organisation and making sure we just had one scheme that fitted everyone.

“What we’ve tried to do is go through the change in terms of offering more flexibility and making sure that there’s a range of things that suit [all employees]; we’ve been really taking in employee feedback, listening to what matters to them, and then tailoring it and shaping it over the last year.”

A year before the pandemic, RHP introduced a flexible working progamme, Your work, your way, which allows employees to adjust their working hours to suit other commitments, such as childcare for example.

“We had some really strong foundations for when we really did have to utilise [flexible working],” says Marsh. “The idea behind Your work, your way, is to help people be the best version of themselves, get the best out of their life and do the best for our customers. We have to balance customer and business needs, but it’s giving people that choice and flexibility about how when, and where they work to meet their needs, and their individual needs in their personal life as well.

“Particularly during these times, [employees] have really appreciated that, because it’s challenging in different ways for different people; we actually said to [employees] that they could reduce their hours, but we’d keep their pay the same just to ease that burden.”

Graley adds: “The ethos we have with [employees] is that [they’re] adults, so we’ll give [them] the freedom and the flexibility, but there’s accountability that sits around it. We’ve really noticed with our employees that they’ve taken that to heart and that everyone’s always trying to do the best by our customers. So if we can create that environment to help them be the best, then we get so much back as well.”

Benefits communication

RHP uses its benefits portal, RHPerks, to promote schemes to employees. It’s accessible on a mobile phone, which is useful for the 25% of the workforce that are out on sites as caretakers. It also uses the social network Yammer as a tool to remind employees about existing benefits or inform them about new perks. In addition, the organisation sends out weekly e-newsletters and the HR team periodically join team huddles to inform staff about the different benefits on offer.

“We have quite a strong governance factor, and we are very keen to make sure that where we put the money delivers the most coming out,” explains Graley. “We are constantly assessing the impact of, for example, if we put money into this benefit, how does that then impact on staff? And does it drive either engagement, performance or good feeling towards the organisation? Or, if we were to remove it, would anyone notice? That’s really been shaping our thinking over the past 18 months, and just making sure that we can quantify where the money goes, and that there is a direct impact to employees on the back of it.

“A lot of the benefits are also about creating the best environment for people to be themselves as well as opposed to it just being, ‘thank you for all your great work’, which of course it is, as well. We also recognise a lot of people in the moment, whether that’s short-term recognition because they’ve delivered amazing customer service, through to how we then factor that up into bigger awards and then a bonus at the end of the year. Thank you for us is as important as recognising some of the other elements,” Graley concludes.

At a glance

RHP Group is a social housing organisation, which primarily operates in the south-west of London. It was formed in 2000 and manages 10,000 properties with 275 employees in roles that range from customer service advisers to business support teams, caretakers and the development team.

The average length of service is seven years. The workforce is 52% female, 48% male.

Primary business objectives that impact employee benefits

To keep pushing the personalisation agenda and how to make it more responsive to employees, while also balancing out the where the money will have the most impact.

Career history

Lucy Graley, executive director of people and business services, joined RHP at the end of 2018. Her background is in HR across local government, private sector and not-for-profit organisations. “The one thing that attracted me to RHP is that ability to bring together all the amazing things that make an amazing workplace, which isn’t just HR: the communications, the learning and development, the technology, the facilities, the health and safety. All of those elements that make a fantastic place to work: being able to pull them into one directorate,” Graley says.

Chloë Marsh has been at RHP for 11 years. She joined as HR adviser, then became learning and development manager, before head of communications. Her role has since broadened to head of people and engagement. Marsh has seen the organisation gain the Investors in People (IIP) platinum award twice. “We’ve been through all the different IIP stages, from silver to gold to double platinum. It’s been lovely to go on that journey and see that progression, and I think that really shows how we continually push the boundaries in terms of being an inspiring place to work.”