Personnel Today Awards 2014 winners: Wolseley take Employee Benefits trophy

Wolseley collect their 2014 Award for Employee Benefits
Wolseley collect their 2014 Award for Employee Benefits

Plumbing distributor Wolseley received the Employee Benefits Award at the Personnel Today Awards 2014. Here we look at their winning entry and the submissions from the rest of the shortlist.

Employee benefits – the judges

Sheila Attwood, editor, pay and benefits, XpertHR

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy, Jelf Group

WINNER: Wolseley

About the organisation
Wolseley UK is the UK operating company of Wolseley plc, the world’s number one distributor of heating and plumbing products and a leading supplier of builders’ products to the professional market. It has around 6,200 employees and 752 branches in the UK.

The challenge
Autumn 2013 saw Wolseley UK undertake an enormous challenge in re-assessing pension arrangements. The comprehensive change programme allowed Wolseley to review and change the pension and benefits available to all existing and new employees. The decision was taken to launch the company’s first flexible benefits scheme, which took effect from 1 January 2014. Wolseley wished to create a package to allow employees to use their flex fund and salary to design a flexible benefits package to suit them.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced “Your Choices” flex benefits scheme, as part of Wolseley UK’s HR and Reward strategy to retain and attract the highest talent. Scheme includes: dental insurance; health cash plan; additional life assurance; partner life assurance; personal accident insurance; and critical illness insurance.
  • Included a flex fund for all 6,200 employees, at 1% of salary, which can be used to buy additional benefits or taken as cash, or both. If employees do not make an active choice, the 1% is defaulted into their trust-based defined contribution pension scheme.
  • Implemented a more comprehensive communication programme than had been used in a pensions context previously at Wolseley. Of particular note are use of the website, a pack sent to homes and an interactive benefits “wheel”. All of these were crafted to overcome limitations of access, understanding or office presence.

Benefits and achievements

  • Promising engagement statistics – there have been 3,359 logins or website accesses; 1,928 staff have made a selection and submitted it (of which 504 have no internet access at work); 557 staff have “purchased” benefits.
  • Introduction of flex benefits has had a considerable and positive impact on the company. As of April 2014, career profiles had been compiled for a new careers website for which employees from all levels and areas of the company were interviewed.
  • The range of benefits was constantly cited (unprompted) in answer to the question “Would you recommend Wolseley UK as a place to work?”
  • Wolseley has made sure that all employees have the same opportunity – they all get the same percentage of employer contributions. This was a very different approach from many of the company’s competitors and supports Wolseley’s aim to be a “company of choice”.
  • All has been achieved in line with the budget identified for this project across a two-year period.

Judges’ comments
“The entry clearly demonstrated how the new benefits scheme would help to deliver the organisation’s HR and reward strategy.”


Yearsley Group

About the organisation
Yearsley Group is a frozen food sales and logistics company employing more than 1,200 staff in 13 depots, with an expected growth of 15% per annum. The company takes pride in developing staff, training and educating them on the job and promoting from within.

The challenge
Yearsley Group recognised that, as the business matures, if existing employees could afford to comfortably retire when the time came, they could be trapped in perpetual employment. This is likely to present issues for the Group, including preventing the organisation from having the capacity to promote existing staff as all senior roles are filled, and the business being trapped with the “skills of yesterday”. The company felt that the only way of proactively addressing this was to take a strategic review of its employee reward and benefit package and align its offering to ensure that all employees can retire when they choose to.

What the organisation did

  • Established a number of initiatives that would increase emphasis on Yearsley Group’s commitment to contributing to the retirement provision of its employees and improve understanding of the importance of saving for retirement.
  • Appointed WR Planning Group who assisted with auto-enrolment and developed a one-page pictorial Retirement Education Statement.
  • Introduced financial education and retirement education to the workforce, which included seminars, one-to-one retirement consultation provision to further engage with the employees and reinforce an understanding of the issues around individual retirement planning, and assist with addressing any personal shortfall in provision.

Benefits and achievements

  • Yearsley Group employees fully understand the pension provision available through one-to-one consulting support, resulting in a 95% participation rate in the occupational pension scheme.
  • Initiative is an investment and will initially lead to increased costs, however the additional value gained from improved employee goodwill, loyalty and ability to improve succession planning should far outweigh the additional “monetary” costs.
  • Business has already seen a marked improvement in terms of employee engagement scores and customer service scores. Yearsley Group views the initiatives which have been introduced as a strategic investment in the workforce for a sustainable improvement in future business performance.

Judges’ comments
“This stood out as something different to the usual “flex” answer to all.”

BHSF Services

About the organisation
BHSF Services is an employee benefits and HR support provider. It assists companies to build cost-effective healthcare plans and occupational health services for their employees. It recently worked with Southco Manufacturing in Worcester to build, implement and develop a new bespoke benefits package for its employees, which launched in November 2013.

The challenge
Employee benefits and engagement is increasingly important to Southco Manufacturing, and the company decided that it needed to provide the best possible package to its staff. Southco has two key objectives which it shared with BHSF: to offer benefits valuable to the entire workforce, and to promote physical, mental and financial wellness, in line with the firm’s corporate objectives. The company also needed to make the change to offering all benefits online without a large development budget.

What the organisation did

  • Developed My Southco Benefits, with BHSF Services, which fulfils the company’s requirements for a bespoke benefits scheme that is easily accessible to all employees and updated regularly. Its broad range of benefits is well-suited to a diverse workforce across a number of locations.
  • Created an online portal that is easy for employees to access, while the provision of benefits for people of all ages, circumstances, interests and budgets ensures all can take advantage.
  • My Southco Benefits is a fresh and innovative scheme – representing a significant departure from its traditional “Benefits Booklet”.
  • Incorporated Green Squares – a new “green” element, helping the company to balance its environmental impact. Southco is the UK’s first business to take up BHSF’s Green Squares scheme, protecting an area of Brazilian rainforest equivalent to the organisation’s total floorspace.
  • Agreed to offer its employees a payroll saving scheme – thanks to BHSF’s relationship with Citysave, Southco has agreed to Citysave loans and savings – services which would otherwise be unavailable to businesses outside of Birmingham.
  • Branded the My Southco Benefits programme to be easily recognisable to Southco’s employees, and to relate to the company’s own website.

Benefits and achievements

  • Since its launch in November 2013, My Southco Benefits programme has been widely promoted, and is now reaching a range of employees in different locations.
  • In 2014, there have been 506 logins, and more than 800 and 200 views and redemptions, respectively. Prior to the launch of the bespoke site, Southco’s generic discounts site achieved an average of 19.1 views and 5.3 redemptions each month in 2013.
  • Strong take-up of the site’s retail offers.
  • My Southco Benefits package is building on the previous voluntary benefits programme’s success in communicating Southco’s offering. The company’s health survey, undertaken in August 2014, showed that across Southco’s three locations, an average of 80% of employees were aware of the free online health assessment.
  • This promotion of, and provision for, good health through voluntary benefits contributes to Southco’s remarkably low absence figures. The head office’s absence rate is just 0.7%, while the two manufacturing facilities average around 2%, both well below the CIPD national average.
  • The organisation’s personal pension plan has seen a vast majority of employees opting in. This scheme is saving the company on national insurance (NI) payments and also contributing further to employees’ pension funds – of the money saved, Southco retains 50%, and feeds 50% into individuals’ pension plans.

Judges’ comments
“The diverse benefits offering is obviously a hit with employees, with a significant improvement in employee engagement in the benefit offering.”

Nottingham City Council

About the organisation
Nottingham is an exciting, lively and diverse city. With a population of more than 300,000 people, two universities, world-class sports facilities and a thriving retail centre, Nottingham City Council works to make a real difference.

The challenge
The task of providing a popular benefits package to the 10,000 Nottingham City Council employees in the middle of public-sector belt-tightening has been a major challenge, but one that has been achieved by the council. With an essential focus on cost-neutrality, its employee benefits also needed to: increase wellbeing within the workforce; attract and retain talent of all ages while supporting the reduction of youth unemployment; increase sustainable travel and reduce the environmental impact of commuting; enable colleague salaries to stretch further; and make workplace savings to help reduce the council’s budget shortfall.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a comprehensive voluntary benefits package that is available to all Nottingham City Council colleagues.
  • Worked with P&MM to provide a package of salary sacrifice schemes and discounts for colleagues, customised to introduce additional elements with independent partners. This bespoke solution was brought together under the “Works Perks” brand.
  • Offered “Works Perks” voluntary benefits including: extensive local business offers; childcare vouchers; holiday (annual leave) purchase scheme; cycle-to-work scheme; phoneplus – tax and NI savings on mobile handsets; workplace giving; SpreePlus pre-paid debit card; travel discounts for bus, tram, rail and car parking; 50% off council leisure centre membership; health cash plans – occupational health unit; and an employee assistance programme (EAP).

Benefits and achievements

  • Council has so far delivered more than £1.7 million in salary/NI savings in three years (more than £615K in 2013 – 11% above the HR team’s target for the year – and £508K in the first window of 2014 alone).
  • Increased uptake substantially year-on-year, from 350 in 2011, to more than 600 in 2013. This year is set for a further major increase with 445 colleagues so far registered as of May 2014.
  • Benefits provision is completely cost neutral.
  • Discount portal sign-up increased by 61% in 18 months from 2440 in Oct 2012, to 4019 in March 2014. More than 40% of the total workforce are utilising the benefits.
  • Number of 16- to 24-year-olds employed by the council rose by 32% from 397 in September 2012 to 525 in September 2013.
  • Nottingham City Council was highly commended in May 2014 by the Public Sector People Management Association Awards (PPMA) for excellence in tackling youth unemployment and supporting young people in employment with the council.
  • Sickness absence decreased by almost 10%, from 11.75 days in 2011 to 10.6 days in 2013.

Judges’ comments
“This entry clearly demonstrated what the council set out to achieve, how it met these objectives and the benefits to the organisation. A very strong entry.”

The Royal Air Force Club

About the organisation
Located in London’s Mayfair, the RAF Club is a stunning building which offers luxurious and peaceful surroundings to its members (serving and former serving officers of the RAF and Allied Air Forces). Having opened its doors in 1922, the club’s interior has been enhanced to its present high standard. The bedroom and public room facilities at the club are similar to those offered by other traditional, high-quality London establishments, but with many additional services and amenities for members.

The challenge
The organisation found it increasingly necessary to support the work-life balance of the club’s staff in what is a challenging 24/7 hospitality environment. It needed to ensure that it had a flexible workforce to meet the business needs of delivering an excellent service to the membership.

What the organisation did

  • Implemented a widespread flexible working strategy, encouraging flexible working interventions by dismantling the old-style 9 to 5 way of working. Ensured every shift worker gets time off on weekends.
  • Multi-skilled its staff so that they can work in various departments across the business.
  • Allowed flexi-rostering across departments – staff have input into their rotas and they can swap shifts between them if required.
  • Implemented job-share arrangements in the membership office and kitchen.
  • Initiated workplace discussions with staff returning from maternity/paternity leave to discuss their options on return-to-work to ensure their new responsibility is given priority, but also to ensure that they get a suitable arrangement to allow them to carry on working.
  • Gave casual workers the same benefits as permanent staff, including training and development opportunities.
  • Let some staff work full time over four days to allow for childcare duties. This has contributed to a substantial saving in nursery fees, without any loss to earnings by cutting down hours.
  • Reduced hours of staff over retirement age (three older staff members work to suit their availability).
  • Permitted extended holidays (or short-term sabbaticals) – to attend to important personal events with a guaranteed role upon return. This breaks the norm for a small business in the hospitality industry.

Benefits and achievements

  • Flexible working has contributed to higher staff satisfaction and engagement, keeping retention rates high. Turnover in 2013 was just 4% for staff with six-plus months in service.
  • Financial performance has grown year-on-year with total turnover exceeding £7 million for the first time.
  • Retention of talent and key skills, which is cost effective to the business.

Judges’ comments
“It was interesting to see how this organisation broke the mould for their industry, and in the process introduced a scheme that is mutually beneficial to employees and the business.”

Virgin Money

About the organisation
Virgin Money’s ambition is to build a better kind of bank; one which aims to make “Everyone Better Off” (EBO), particularly its customers, colleagues, shareholders, corporate partners and the communities it serves. When it acquired Northern Rock in 2012 in a deal worth up to £1 billion, it went through a period of integration, alongside building a new culture, managing further asset acquisitions, and developing the overall customer offering. The result was rapid and complex business change.

The challenge
As part of the bank’s approach to harmonising its colleagues’ terms and conditions, Virgin Money needed to create a flexible benefits package and approach that had several key attributes: simple, cost-effective access to a range of great benefits that matched colleagues’ needs while balancing a sense of responsibility; provided a mechanism which allowed the business to harmonise widely different approaches to benefits and levels of cover; delivered a service equal to that which it would provide to customers; and enabled the company to be compliant with the new auto-enrolment legislation.

What the organisation did

  • Delivered a project to harmonise colleague terms and conditions which resulted in 99.7% of colleagues opting to take up the new package. New approach took the EBO principals as the driving force and included the introduction of flexible benefits.
  • Removed hierarchical benefits –  if a benefit was right for one colleague it should be provided for all, eg company-funded private medical insurance.
  • Harmonised different levels of benefit. Where this was not possible, the value of the historic benefits was provided through a self-contained flex fund. The flex fund can be used to buy back historic benefits, purchase other benefits, or colleagues can choose to take this fund as cash with their monthly salary.
  • Offered choice and flexibility within the confines of corporate responsibility. Virgin Money was keen to keep a core level of benefits in place for everybody that provided a level of security and comfort for colleagues and their families and promoted health and wellbeing. For example, no colleague can flex their life assurance cover below four times their salary.
  • Used Virgin Money’s purchasing power to obtain competitive rates on products. Ensured efficient Income Tax and/or NI treatment.
  • Gave straightforward communications – implementation strategy included: CEO presentation; reward director and flexible benefit provider roadshows in all locations; colleague desk-drop brochures; Web-Ex available to all colleagues; flexible benefits mini-site with clear colleague communications; benefits calculators, including a “till receipt” approach to keeping track of the cost; and timely reminder emails.

Benefits and achievements

  • Approach provided harmonisation of benefits, making it possible for colleagues to retain historic benefits that were important to them (eg family private medical insurance) and enabled better engagement of colleagues in the provision and value of the benefits they have access to.
  • Colleague engagement has risen significantly to 85%. Turnover reduced from 11% to 6.6%.
  • Provided a one-off opportunity to understand the scope and cost of existing benefits, before introducing a flexible benefits plan which harmonised benefits.
  • Resulted in 1,700 colleagues benefitting from private medical insurance cover.
  • A side-benefit to the programme was a cost saving to the business of around £1 million, which was recycled within the flexible benefits programme.

Judges’ comments
“The organisation tackled the complex problem of harmonising terms and conditions in a way that enabled employees to retain their current offering – an impressive feat.”

Wiltshire Council

About the organisation
Wiltshire Council is a large unitary council with a diverse workforce of 14,000 staff (9,000 in schools). Since its formation in 2009, it has been on a journey of significant change to deliver a vision focused on building more resilient communities and improved performance, against a backdrop of significant cuts in budgets.

The challenge
In 2012, the council identified the need for a new benefits solution as only 47% of staff were satisfied with the overall benefits package, largely due to three years with no pay awards alongside a two-year pay increment freeze. The council’s business plan for 2013-17 included developing an attractive voluntary benefits package which would: increase engagement across a diverse workforce; aid retention; and support development of the wider employer brand.

What the organisation did

  • Implemented a benefits scheme that engaged employees. Ran focus groups with staff and managers to help identify what they really valued about benefits.
  • Benchmarked public- and private-sector organisations that had implemented new benefits platforms, provided “word of mouth” feedback about improved engagement.
  • Developed the “Wiltshire Rewards” solution under the “Reward Gateway” platform and kept stakeholders informed using data and demonstrations to respond to concerns raised, and show how well the Reward Gateway scheme met the objectives.
  • Gained internal buy-in to scheme branding and logo to build recognition and drew on the expertise of reward gateway to design a “local offers” section of the site, which integrated discounts offered by local businesses.
  • Engaged 60 “champions” from across the business who attended sessions held across the county where the system was demonstrated, promotional materials were distributed and they were given early access to the discounts on offer.
  • Launched Wiltshire Rewards in September 2013 with a series of roadshows across the main employee hubs. Launch avoided key business events so it was the “top story” intranet link for two weeks, driving traffic to the site.
  • Focused on wide visibility of the scheme during the first month to generate further sign-up through word-of-mouth promotion.
  • Encouraged staff in under-represented areas to sign up.

Benefits and achievements

  • In the third week after launch there were 1,011 registered users (19% of eligible staff). By May 2014, there were more than 2000 registered users and spend through the Wiltshire Rewards site hit £520,000, translating into savings for staff of £61,971 since the scheme launched.
  • In terms of value for money, at a cost to the council of £24k per annum, this demonstrates that the scheme is far more effective than adding the same amount to staff salaries.
  • As a measure of engagement, in the first three months of the new scheme there was an average of 1,260 orders placed per month through the site, whereas there had previously been an average of 80 hits per month on the staff discounts page.
  • Overall, there were higher than expected registrations and scheme usage, along with positive qualitative feedback.

Judges’ comments
“The benefits plan chosen was a sensible choice to fill the gap left by the ongoing pay freeze.”

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