For the employee benefits team at the University of Lincoln, the arrival of Covid-19 meant having to react quickly to ensure its benefits offering remained viable and relevant.
A number of benefits were put on the back burner, including its car purchase scheme and discounts around season tickets, staff parking, holidays, cinema tickets and high street stores, and attention switched to engaging teams of people working remotely. Ian Hodson, head of reward at the university, says: “We’ve looked a lot more at some of the social and communal aspects of reward and benefits, which often come at no great cost, other than the administration and facilitation around them.”
Not surprisingly, much of this involves virtual benefits. “We have a virtual running club which takes place four times a week via Teams,” Hodson says. “Before Christmas [employees] were all clocking up miles to get from Lincoln to Lapland, and they are now heading to New York.”
It has also put on virtual yoga and Pilates classes, as well as virtual bingo evenings and a virtual awards presentation to recognise individuals and teams that have gone above and beyond in a difficult year.
There has also been a focus on financial support, with virtual education sessions and promotion of the organisation’s cash individual savings account (Isa), employee assistance programme and debt advice offering. “Covid-19 has given us these extremes,” says Hodson. “Some people are struggling but we also have people who are saving money through not commuting and want to make their money work for them.”
The employee benefits team is now helping to devise a more comprehensive and planned strategy, based around the idea that many staff will want to retain an element of flexibility in future. “We’ll take a radical look at all benefits and whether they’re still needed, and then the exciting bit is to identify what the new benefits will look like,” says Hodson.
This could include offering staff the ability to finance technology purchases that will enable them to work remotely in an effective manner on a longer-term basis, he adds.