Microsoft’s Steve Harvey explains how the company is hoping for success with
its .Net solution
Steve Harvey, director of people, profit and culture at Microsoft UK, is in
an excellent position to envisage the full potential of a flexible benefits
He can see it contributing strongly to his strategic goal of making
Microsoft the ’employer of choice within the UK IT sector’. Even in the current
downturn, Harvey believes there are not enough skilled people in IT, and that
Microsoft needs to engage and motivate each employee as an individual to
"We can’t offer a ‘vanilla’ (uniform) package – we want to be respected
as one of the most family-friendly companies in the UK, I want employees to
think ‘why would I work anywhere else?’" he explains.
Equally, given his responsibilities as director of finance, he sees the
‘harder’, financial possibilities – focusing the finance function on thinking
about the investments in benefits already in place for employees, and
especially the ones that do and don’t add value in the eyes of the recipients.
There are major changes in the IT industry to which employers need to adapt.
Harvey points to the average age of Microsoft employees now being 34, for one:
"Our employees have different views on benefits to younger people,"
he says. "They are more serious about pension provision and work-life
balance." As part of the company’s introduction of flexible benefits, a
day nursery is being built on the Microsoft Campus outside Reading, the first
in the whole of Microsoft.
So, what has stopped Microsoft introducing a flexible benefits scheme until
now? The answer, surprisingly, lies in the technology available. As Harvey
explains: "At Microsoft we don’t like systems that need large overheads
and administration. We prefer to wait for technology to catch up." The
development of Microsoft’s .NET platform was therefore a catalyst for
introducing the scheme, allowing a flexible system to operate via the internet.
Now, Microsoft is well on the road to introducing its flexible benefits
solution, working with Hewitt Bacon and Woodrow and RebusHR. The company
researched other schemes that had been implemented, before starting its
process. One factor that stood out as key to success for Harvey was
An employee’s first response to a flexible benefits scheme can be
scepticism. "They can be cynical, and past experience has found that each
time you touch an employees finances, you expose a raw nerve," Harvey
says. He suggests Microsoft has an in-built advantage. "For most of the
sales, marketing and consulting roles, using a .NET solution will bring to life
the technology they are selling."
Equally, experience from other companies also reinforced the importance of
setting up the system properly. "The decisions you make in the first year
are very difficult to unmake," he explains, and expects the most popular
benefits will prove to be enhanced pensions, longer holidays and upgraded
company cars, as well as people buying greater levels of medical and dental
Through using .NET, the company wants to try and involve employees’ families
in the process. Harvey sees them as key to helping retention. "We want
people at home to get involved and, indeed, to help make it difficult for
employees to leave." All employees are being set up with ADSL lines,
wireless networking and internet access at home, so .NET technology and
RebusHR’s flexible benefits application can be used to model possible benefits
at the kitchen table.
Among the other plusses of the .NET solution, once up and running, will be
greater transparency for Microsoft’s HR team as well as for benefit providers,
all of whom will have real time information on employee choices. The .NET
technology will allow later extension of the system to enable a number of
providers to compete for the benefit choices of employees.
Harvey expects to see the positive impact of the scheme within the next
calendar year. The scheme was announced at the company’s last employee
conference, and full details of the scheme will be communicated to employees
later this year.
But what impact does the company expect? Harvey says it has already surveyed
employee attitudes to benefits, and this will also provide a benchmark to see
how the scheme is received. He will be looking, in particular, to see the
impact on attracting new people as well as retaining people through life
changes, such as increasing the number of new parents that return to work. The
acid test, he says, will be "Does it [flexible benefits] help people to