The Little Things by Tracy Carpenter, Mint Human Resources

How do small medium enterprises (SMEs) provide a benefits package which is right for their teams, doesn’t break the bank and helps retain their best talent and why is the right benefits package so important?

Is it all about the cash?

Working for a company is sometimes just seen as giving over your time and skills in exchange for money. Some managers even have the view point that – ‘well I pay them don’t I – what more do they want?’ Viewed through that lens, working life can be a pretty uninspiring prospect.

In fact, for most people, their job is tied into a lot more than just the pay. The satisfaction of a job well done. The friendship and camaraderie of their colleagues. A feeling of self-worth. All of these things make for a job worth doing and doing well.

All that being said, there’s little doubt that pay is the thing that gets people out of bed on a morning but for small, medium organisations there’s often not vast amounts of cash floating around. So, you need to look at alternatives to boost the overall package.

How can SMEs compete?

In addition to smaller pots of cash, SMEs are competing with the big guns; the technology companies who have football tables in their offices, throw extravagant parties for product launches or new ventures, or pay employees with shares in the business that can amount to thousands. Talent can be drawn away by the prospect of bigger and allegedly better things at large corporates.

But of course, most people don’t work for such large companies. Ninety nine percent of all companies in the UK are classed as SMEs, and 60% of all private sector employees work for one1. In 2017, it was reported that 76% of those businesses were actively considering introducing benefit packages for their employees2. So, don’t use your size as an excuse – you can provide a worthwhile benefits package and here’s how.

Finding the cash

Your benefits package doesn’t have to cost the earth, don’t assume that it needs to cost to be attractive. You just need to use the funds you have wisely.

In fact, a lot of benefits can be free. Take flexible working for example, it costs literally nothing to let employees start work a little later and catch up on the time at some point in the future – and it can be really appreciated. Many companies still lose valued employees for the sake of imposing a rigid working pattern on their teams.

Some companies let their employees take a day off a year to support a charity. Yes, it costs you to let that person be absent for a day but I would suggest that the public relations buzz you get from this would outweigh the cost.

See providing benefits as a benefit

You need to stop thinking that providing benefits is just a costly burden to the company. You need to understand what ‘benefits’ they bring. If people are engaging with your benefits package there’s a greater chance that they’ll stay with you, will remain loyal and will encourage other great people to join. All of that in the end saves you money – recruiting, replacing, advertising and training. Think of what that costs you as a company and consider what investing that kind of cash could do.

Finding the right benefits

The first question you should ask when considering a benefits package is: what does the profile of your employees look like? If a benefit is to be considered a benefit, then it has to have… some benefit!

If you mainly employ young people – perhaps on minimum wage or short-term contracts – then life insurance is unlikely to be something that will be very attractive to them. Likewise, if you employ a number of working mums, then office nights out might be something they’ll struggle to fit in.

So, when constructing a benefits package, it’s worth considering this as a useful starting point. Not only will your team appreciate benefits that are useful to them, but you increase the chance that the benefits will be used. Remember: the reason you offer benefits is to improve your employees’ performance by making them feel valued and trusted.

Getting employees to take up benefits

Firstly, it is important that employees are reminded about benefits. Often, they are mentioned at the interview stage, only to be forgotten a few weeks in. A simple email reminder, a note on the kitchen notice board, or a mention in a team briefing helps to keep your benefits in the minds of employees. Not only will this increase the likelihood of taking them up, but it will also remind them that you value them.

Benefits that are unused are benefits without value. If, for example, you have a benefit that isn’t being taken up, use the opportunity to ask employees why they don’t use it – and even get them to suggest alternatives from a list… which leads us to our main thesis:

Empower employees to design their own benefits

If there has been a common theme to the points raised so far, it is that it is that people have different ideas of what constitutes a benefit. For a company with a thousand employees, any decent benefit might be seen as valuable by a couple of hundred people and will get a great response.

For SMEs, the problem is that in a team of 10, it is unlikely that you will easily find a benefit that will suit the majority or all of your team.

This is where SMEs can beat the big giants – use the fact that you’re small to your advantage. Speak to individuals – literally ask them what they feel they would benefit from.

Encourage them to start their own groups, and offer as much support as you can – perhaps your premises offers space where someone could practise yoga out of office hours, or maybe your WiFi connection could help someone out who is looking to learn a skill entirely unrelated to work.

In the end, giving employees benefits actually benefits you in the form of a happier workplace, better retention rates, and even perhaps a little boost to you own sense of well-being.

It’s a virtuous circle – and the power to make that change lies within you.