Weetabix Food Company tailors benefits platform to employee preferences

Weetabix Food Company

In February 2017, cereal manufacturer Weetabix Food Company launched a combined flexible and voluntary benefits platform, to align with the needs of its 1,000 UK-based employees.

The platform, provided by Edenred, was designed to engage and retain Weetabix’s varied workforce, as well as to attract new staff.

Stuart Branch, group HR and IT director, says: “We see benefits as one of the integral parts of an employee package, rather than just concentrating on pay. We believe that people look at the wider benefits in total, and in particular, employees want to tailor their benefits to suit their individual needs.

“What we’ve done is put in flexible benefits, creating an opportunity for employees to feel a sense of individuality at work and choose their total compensation package as individuals.”

Basing benefits on employee feedback

Prior to making any changes to its benefits provision, Weetabix first wanted to ensure that its new offering would be affordable and beneficial for all employees. With a high volume of its staff based on the factory floor, it was essential that the organisation gained feedback from everyone, no matter their level of seniority.

Weetabix conducts an organisation-wide survey every September, and in 2016 it discovered through this that employees were particularly interested in salary sacrifice and voluntary benefits, which would allow them to save money and spread costs that they might not normally be able to afford.

As well as taking on board feedback from current employees, Weetabix also wanted to add benefits that would set it apart from competitors. To consider this wider picture, the organisation therefore also took into account feedback from leaver surveys.

“A few years ago, most of the questions [in the leaver survey] were around benefits,” Branch explains. “Employees didn’t think that what we offered [was] anywhere near the [number of] benefits that other competitors in the market offered.

“Attraction and retention are connected, and when we were trying to get the best talent, we needed to be mindful of this. Through the recruitment process, [we got] an idea of what expectations people have when they are looking at joining an organisation.”

As a result of this research, Weetabix partnered with Edenred to create the new benefits platform, which would give its employees more choice and develop a greater level of employee engagement.

Loving benefits

The new employee benefits platform was planned for a Valentine’s Day launch, playing on the theme of love. Although the timing of the launch was coincidental, and was more in line with the new tax year, it proved an effective way to create pique employees’ interest in choosing their flexible benefits.

The Valentine’s Day launch enabled the HR team to develop a ‘loving your benefits’ theme. The organisation personalised its communications by giving each member of staff a Valentine’s Day card on the day of the launch, which included their password and access code to the new online benefits portal.

Pre-launch, there was an online 14-day countdown to remind employees to register for their benefits. Employees were targeted with personalised emails to nudge them into making choices.

“We were able to target people specifically,” explains Branch. “People who had logged in and hadn’t made their choices yet, those who had been in and made the changes but saved them for later, and those who haven’t logged in at all yet. Everyone had a personalised email to encourage them to log on and make their benefit choices.”

The HR team and a few of the organisation’s benefit providers also set up desks in the on-site canteen to help employees with their choices, or show them how to use the new portal.

Staff taking centre stage

To further engage and connect with employees, Weetabix used its own staff within the promotional materials for the newly launched benefits platform. The organisation hoped this would encourage employees to relate more readily to the flexible benefits now on offer, and show that it appreciates that staff have interests and commitments outside of the workplace.

“We’ve got pictures of one of our HR team who is sitting down in work, but then superimposed is a cartoon with her toddler and building blocks, and another employee crouching down in a work environment, and then a superimposed cartoon of him putting a chain on his bike. The first one is all about childcare vouchers and the second is about the bike-to-work scheme,” explains Branch.

Employees also play a central role in the organisation’s Weetastars recognition scheme. Everyone who works at Weetabix can nominate a colleague who they feel has gone the extra mile. Winners are selected quarterly and annually, and are given financial rewards, as well as appearing on boards and screens around the Weetabix headquarters.

“The role of benefits is an integral part of our total rewards philosophy, which is, in turn, part of our people strategy, which is about making Weetabix a great place to work,” says Branch. “We believe that reward and [benefits] are integral in order to make [Weetabix] a place that employees want to work and develop their career.”

Measuring successes

Weetabix is reaping the rewards of its new benefits strategy, with almost two-thirds (63%) of employees taking up flexible benefits during the period post-launch. This figure has remained steady since.

Anecdotal employee feedback has also been positive, according to Branch, and in the past 12 months only minor changes have been made to the strategy.

“If I was going to pick the one benefit that’s had the most positive feedback, then it’s trading up or trading down holiday,” says Branch. “Depending on what journey our employees are on, they are either cash rich and time poor or vice versa. This is something that allows people to tailor what they want.”

The cycle-to-work scheme is also proving popular, with an increasing number of employees either cycling to work or using the salary sacrifice to trade up and buy a new bike. Childcare vouchers have also seen a rise of 50%, and employees are saving as much as £400 with discounts on purchases through the shopping saving incentives.

A summer hours initiative has also received a positive response. Employees who work in commercial and support functions are encouraged to finish at 2pm on a Friday, so they can go home and spend extra time in the garden, on their hobbies or with their families.

Branch explains that the most important financial element of the strategy has been flexible pay, with employees finding it beneficial in different ways. “For example, professionals whose partners also have private medical [insurance] may find they are paying for it twice, so one is wasted. They can opt out just as easily as they can add a partner. It’s a great way to trade up or trade down.”

What the future holds

In an evolving world, Weetabix wants to ensure it continues to tailor its flexible benefits strategy to offer what existing employees want, and to attract new talent.

“The world has moved on and right now there are things like payment protection, for example, that is important to a number of employees, as well as the opportunity to consolidate your debt,” notes Branch. “Another popular benefit is gym membership, but the question is, is the brand important? Do our employees want the likes of a David Lloyd or Virgin membership or is everyone more interested in the local, most convenient gym?”

Branch concludes: “It’s a journey that will probably continue. We are working very hard on creating a sense that we’re in it together, as well as of fairness and equality for everyone.”

Weetabix at a glance

Established in 1932, Weetabix Food Company makes Weetabix, one of the UK’s best-known breakfast cereals. Through the years, the brand has expanded to manufacture Weetabix Minis, Alpen, Weetabix On The Go Breakfast Drink, Ready Brek, Weetos and Alpen bars.

The majority of roles at Weetabix are based within manufacturing operations, engineering, commercial and business functions. The organisation employs 1,000 staff in the UK, with a wide range of ages, from 18 to 60, and an average tenure of 10.6 years. The organisation has a 63% male and 37% female gender split.

Business objectives

  • To grow sales and market share in the UK and export markets.
  • To protect profits for shareholders.

Career history

Stuart Branch joined Weetabix in 2012 as the group HR director, and in 2017 added IT to his title.

Prior to this position, he held roles such as European HR director at Maso Corp in 2011, interim HR director at Thomas Cook, group organisation development director at Boots in 2006 and head of corporate HR, development and change at Alliance and Leicester in 2004.

Branch states that his greatest achievement is the external recognition of Weetabix’s people strategy. It was shortlisted for nine categories in the 2018 HR Distinction awards, and received further shortlists and awards in other events.

“I am very proud to be called the group HR and IT director of Weetabix,” says Branch. “We are truly recognised internationally as a top brand, and being trusted with this position is a great achievement. But also, personally for me one of the best things about my job is the number of friendships I have with ex-colleagues, where our relationships have gone beyond the years and months of our working time together.”

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