By Lina Arshad
Employee perks have always been important to the global workforce, but when the world was turned upside down in 2020, our working lives also changed with it—and that meant new perks were born by default. People from a vast range of industries had to change the way they worked almost overnight, from turning their kitchen table into a fully functioning office, to familiarizing themselves with new programs to ensure they had to access everything they needed while working remotely.
And with the massive shake-up in things occurring over a much longer period than initially suggested, employers have had to adapt their benefits packages in line with our ‘new normal’—however, data from our Nigel Frank Microsoft 365 & Azure Careers & Hiring Guide 21-22 revealed just under a third (31%) of all respondents have seen a change in their benefits packages throughout the course of the pandemic. But which of these perks are most important to the current, and future, workforce?
Here, we’ll be taking you through some of the most common, and top-rated additions that you, as an employer, should be considering implementing wherever possible to ensure your business thrives. We’ll cover:
For businesses looking to attract and retain great talent, employee benefits are non-negotiable. A good benefits program that actually takes into consideration what your current workforce want—as well as aligning with the desires of job seekers—can positively impact your business in a multitude of ways.
Every organization offers benefits of some kind, but competition between businesses has ramped up significantly since the pandemic started, and those not offering the best perks are now seeing their productivity levels suffering massively, as their workforce lose motivation.
By listening to your employees and implementing a comprehensive and appealing benefits package, you will automatically see a happier, more motivated and productive workforce. Allowing your staff to tell you exactly what perks they’d like by way of anonymous surveys can be a way to better your offerings and ensure you’re giving them the things that really matter to them, rather than just imitating other businesses and offering things that have no real value.
Remember, if your employees don’t feel cared for by those who have a duty of care to them, they’re unlikely to stay loyal or put much effort into their work. So, by implementing a great perks package, you’re bound to see a return on your investment.
When your staff feel appreciated and happy in their jobs, it’s only natural that your company will experience much lower rates of employee turnover than an organization who doesn’t have a benefits package in place—or one that’s not as appealing. As well as retaining your best talent and keeping everyone satisfied, and therefore more motivated and productive, you’ll also save a fortune on training and hiring processes to get new starters up to speed. Plus, with less downtime needed to fill vacancies, you’ll also be less likely to have clients and projects slip through the cracks like you would if a mass exodus of employees occurred.
A great benefits package can also reduce absenteeism in employees who aren’t actively looking for another job, but still aren’t satisfied where they are. So, you’ll benefit from all hands-on deck more often.
When you feel better, you work better, which is possibly why our recent Careers and Hiring Guide found that even prior to the pandemic, 57% of Microsoft 365 and Azure professionals were already receiving health/medical insurance—as well as 35% receiving life insurance, and 28% having dental plans through their work. Further to this, a quarter of professionals (25%) also commented that a company having health/medical plans as part of their benefits package would encourage them to accept or consider a new role.
As we come out the other side of the pandemic—a time where we’ve all been aware of the importance our physical wellbeing—people are now even more health conscious, so giving them that peace of mind will not only make them feel cared for while working for you, but also means any health problems they do have can be sorted sooner rather than later. For example, by offering free routine eye examinations, you can avoid your staff potentially having more intrusive problems with vision that require surgery and time out of the business.
Having perks in place that mirror your company values can be attractive to potential clients and customers and show your current ones you are about what you say you are. For example, if you’re an organization that stands strongly for sustainability and environmentally-friendly ways of doing things, having full remote teams that limits your company’s carbon footprint could be a good way to project this message further—as well as giving your employees more flexibility.
Offering your employees benefits where the cost is deducted from their salary or means a net pay deduction can be beneficial for both you and them. For example, giving your staff a chance to purchase extra annual leave days will mean they get the time off they want, while ensuring you don’t have to pay for these, so it’s fair for you both. Plus, not only can they give your employees the opportunity to split these costs over months rather than making one big payout, but they can also benefit from reduced NI and tax—and so could you as their employer.
We’ve definitely seen a shift over time in what makes an appealing benefits package for employees, but the events of the past two years completely redefined what most workers were, and continue to, look for in their jobs.
Most notably, the widespread introduction of flexible working arrangements, like remote working, for many industries has been a big change with full-time onsite workers now few and far between. Our Careers and Hiring Guide revealed that pre-pandemic, only 15% of employees were working from home full-time, whereas during it skyrocketed up to 74%—with a further 33% now wanting to continue full remote work and 50% preferring a hybrid style of work.
As well as where they are based, employees are also demanding much more freedom in terms of their actual working hours, whereby flexible start and finish times are being requested much more—not to mention the pressure that’s currently being applied around the globe to introduce four-day working weeks.
Wellness has always been an important aspect of wellbeing packages, with organizations offering things like free or subsidized massages, as well as giving allowances for comfortable and supportive work chairs and equipment. But since so many people used time during the pandemic to practice mindfulness as an escape, the focus on well-being perks has increased massively. This means we’re seeing far more demand for things like gym membership subsidies—plus, our survey also found that four weeks or more paid time off would convince 37% of professionals to take a new role, so they can spend more time doing what they love and are passionate about outside of work.
Although not all older perks, like free in-office healthy lunches and massages, are that relevant to a mainly remote and hybrid workforce, by combining the new expectations of employees with more traditional perks, you can ensure you’re offering a package that nobody can turn down.
The pandemic put the onus on companies to up the employee perks they were currently offering, and to start thinking more in-line with what employees actually want and need during this hard time and beyond. It’s been great to see what kinds of innovative, employee benefits organizations are coming up with to retain their current staff, and to attract new talent to expand their teams as we recover from the economic downturn caused by the events of the past two years.
But what do all businesses—wherever possible—realistically need to offer to stay ahead of the competition and afloat of the job market?
A significant number of industries had to introduce homeworking at some point over the course of the pandemic, and with employees having had a taste of the freedom and flexibility this allows, it’s now a highly desirable offering that’s making workers reconsider their current jobs and want to move elsewhere.
According to research conducted by the Office of National Statistics, almost half of the UK population worked at home for at least some of the time in 2020, which certainly provides an insight into what it was like on a global scale. As well as cutting down on costs associated with commuting, working from home has also given people an opportunity to spend more time with their friends and families, make important appointments they may otherwise not have got to, as well as providing them with the freedom to explore the world and move to new cities or countries.
If offering full-time remote work isn’t possible for your organization, don’t panic! Our research revealed that a hybrid work model could be the perfect negotiation for companies like yours, with 50% of Microsoft 365 and Azure professionals reporting that they’d prefer to work part-time in the office, and part-time at home. This is perfect for companies who want to maintain a social aspect but are keen to listen to the needs and desires of their employees—and even better if workers are able to choose the days that best suit them!
If you don’t currently offer homeworking, or are considering bringing it in soon, be aware that you will need to communicate the guidance well for this type of work. Of course, laying down expectations such as getting the same amount of work done and attending meetings and making deadlines need to be mentioned—but there are some negatives that have been found, which can easily be avoided. Another bit of research conducted by the Office of National Statistics found that in 2020, people working from home were, on average, doing six hours of unpaid overtime and were more likely to work into the evenings. Additionally, the statistics showed that the sickness absence rate fell to 0.9% for homeworkers, compared to 2.2% for those based on-site—and while this may appear a good thing for businesses, it is actually indicative of the fact employees were working through sickness and not taking the time off they needed. In the long-run, this will catch up with them and they’ll possibly need to take prolonged absences.
When any of the above occurs, the ‘perk’ is no longer beneficial to an employee, so addressing these possible issues before they happen will be sensible. Make sure people know they needn’t work over their contracted hours because their laptop is there—explicitly letting your workforce know they are trusted to work as normal can help as working overtime may be caused by a ‘need’ to prove they’re actually working.
Paid time off (PTO) completely varies by location, with the average permanent Microsoft 365 or Azure professional receiving 22 days’ PTO a year. But it’s certainly a perk that employees expect to be included in benefits packages—after all, why should we have to pay to take a well-deserved break?
More time off is becoming increasingly important to workers across the globe, especially when the pandemic forced non-essential shops and hospitality to close, and people turned to making their own fun, picking up hobbies and exploring new areas of their cities with their family. So, being as competitive as you can in how much time off you give to your workers can mean you’re both retaining and attracting top talent. This is particularly important for talent-scarce sectors like tech where businesses really need to find top-of-the-range professionals to join them—some companies are even offering unlimited paid time off these days.
We understand not all businesses can afford to offer unlimited or excessive paid time off, but luckily you can still remain competitive by offering a good and fair amount paired with other policies for employee leave such as salary sacrifices for workers to buy any extra time they’d like off, and early finishes for well-being. As long as you’re properly looking after your staff and listening to their needs wherever possible, they’re likely to be satisfied without having unlimited leave–not to mention some people prefer having more structure.
Although wellbeing perks are becoming increasingly superior to all other benefits, financial compensation is never going to go out of style. No matter how much any of us love our jobs, we work to afford to live life and enjoy it, so limiting your employees’ opportunities to earn can seriously damage how your company is viewed. So by bringing in bonuses, you’ll not only appeal to more candidates in the industry, but employees will want to be more productive in order to secure some extra cash.
It’s completely up to individual companies what types and the amounts of bonuses they award people with, however commonly these can be split between an employee meeting their own personal goals, and company-wide bonuses during high-performing years.
Bonuses can also be dependent on which part of the tech industry you work in, with those working for end-users, typically cashing in on these financial incentives either monthly, bi-annually, or as an end-of-year reward. On the other hand, partner organizations may have their bonuses tied to a billable number of hours worked. So, knowing which way to promote these to your employees will be dependent on the type of organization you are.
Recognizing and rewarding your people with a salary top-up when they’ve performed well is always appreciated, but make sure the financial incentives you offer aren’t used in place of growth opportunities. In our Careers and Hiring Guide research, we found that at least 13% of professionals would be enticed to change jobs if another company offered better training and development opportunities. So, while bonuses are always great to get your staff motivated in the short-term, it’s career progression that’ll have them staying for the long haul.
As the world moves gradually back to normality, and countries begin opening up again at their own individual speeds, it’s hard to ignore the much quieter city centers and surrounding areas during the weekdays. This is thanks to the significant demand for working arrangements that allow for better freedom—and in particular, flexible working hours.
With so many of us turning to work completely remotely during the pandemic, organizations often lent us so much more flexibility in terms of start and finish times—primarily, because they didn’t have to open and close an office around different people’s schedules. Plus, with other arrangements being disrupted, such as kids’ school and extracurricular activities, we all needed some extra leeway to balance our usual commitments in such a trying and uncertain time. And, allowing people to maintain this freedom as we work towards getting back to more normal ways of living is incredibly desirable for job seekers and professionals looking to switch jobs. In fact, our survey showed that 22% of people would be swayed to leave their current job, or to consider it, if another workplace offered flexible start and finish times. Some organizations are even extending this to include longer lunch breaks to ensure their workers really are taking the time they need to break up the day and come back refreshed and productive for the afternoon.
If you’re not already offering flexible working hours as a perk, it’s well worth considering, given how in-demand it is. Just be sure that you communicate any guidelines explicitly, such as the core hours you need your employees to work and which of those they need to be available and contactable between.
As briefly mentioned above, more and more professionals are becoming focused on the training and development opportunities that a business can offer them. This makes it so important for organizations to work with each staff member to create development plans and provide them with targets to meet to get to where they want to be—whether that’s turning a junior team member into a department head or helping someone to branch out from one niche to another.
To ensure you understand you’re offering the best opportunities for your staff to grow, you should ideally have them fill out a career development program during the onboarding process so you can use this to initially set plans and tasks. When it comes to advancing these goals once your workers have been with your company for some time, it’s important to keep up with their career plans, including any changes they might want to make. This is why we really recommend having regular 1-2-1 meetings, whether weekly/bi-weekly/monthly, where managers or team leaders will sit down with each member of their team to discuss progress and any new plans, as well as addressing any concerns.
As well as this, it’s also important that you lend your employees time for learning and development each week on whatever topic they want to dive into. That could be anything from undertaking some courses on Udemy, or simply looking into a concept or program they came across during the week that they wanted some extra background knowledge on. Having an automatic check-in scheduled on your project management tool can keep everybody accountable for setting this time aside to learn, and allowing them to share anything new and useful with their colleagues, too.
Your people are your company’s greatest asset, which makes attracting and retaining the best talent so important. While offering competitive pay can certainly turn some heads your way, having an appealing benefits package can significantly multiply your chances of poaching fantastic job seekers, as well as keeping them with you longer once they are there.
Looking for more management and hiring advice? Our Nigel Frank blog has plenty of tips and tricks to keep you competitive in this fast-paced but talent-scarce industry. Here you’ll find helpful guides on everything from mistakes to avoid when hiring Azure professionals, to common Dynamics interview questions, how to make the most of your virtual tech teams, and plenty more.
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