Personnel Today Awards 2016: Employee Benefits taken to the Next Stage in social care sector

Next Stage, a small social care provider in north-west England, beat off stiff competition to win the 2016 Personnel Today Award for Employee Benefits this week. We take a look at its winning entry and at the submissions from the runners-up.



Next Stage

About the organisation
Next Stage provides vital practical and emotional care and support services to vulnerable people, with the aim of helping them lead independent lives. The organisation was established in 2002 and employs 144 staff.

Employee Benefits – the judges

Sheila Attwood, editor, pay and benefits, XpertHR
Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy, Jelf Group

The challenge
Driving sustainable staff engagement in the care industry is a major challenge. Non-competitive pay and long, unsociable hours working in emotionally demanding roles have all contributed to high labour turnover. Next Stage wanted to find a benefits programme that was relevant to the lives of the diverse workforce.

What the organisation did

  • Surveyed its 144 staff, asking them what they’d like to see in a company benefits programme. New benefits were implemented as a result of listening to employees’ needs. Due to the nature of the job, nearly half of employees said that access to a 24/7 telephone counselling service would benefit them.
  • Partnered with Perkbox, an employee benefits provider that provides access to more than 200 perks including discounted spa days, cheap cinema tickets, savings on groceries and travel, as well as free mobile phone insurance, subsided gym membership and childcare vouchers.
  • Its app continually reinforces the rewards system, alerting staff of any additional new benefits that have been added to existing options. Peers and managers may reward employees for a job well done through the app’s badge awards system, with accolades displayed via a company-wide leader board.
  • Launched a healthcare cash plan that provides unlimited 24/7 counselling support for both personal and work-related stress, as well as financial and general advice. The service also offers £1,200 annually to spend on self-referred medical treatments.
  • Created a shopping reward card that is used to recognise staff achievements by management and head office, plus to reward employees on a monthly basis for achieving 100% attendance. Staff can redeem rewards in more than 22,000 retail outlets.
  • Relaunched the employee referral programme, loading £50 on the shopping reward card once a successful referral has completed six months of service.

Benefits and achievements

  • Significant reduction in the staff attrition rate in six months. Now just 14% of new starters leave in the first 12 months (down from 58% in the previous year).
  • The employee referral scheme resulted in 38% new hires since January 2016.
  • The company’s 144 employees have redeemed 665 benefits; with the most popular perks comprising meals out with the tastecard, cinema tickets and car breakdown cover. Collectively, this equates to a saving of nearly £40k.
  • The healthcare cash plan has seen staff claim 31 different types of treatment – from routine dental check-ups to complementary therapies.
  • Next Stage believe there is a clear link between improved investment in staff and better outcomes for the people they support. Caregivers must feel genuinely engaged and valued in what they do in order to ensure quality of care is maintained.

Judges’ comments
“A very well-presented entry on how the organisation has used employee benefits to great effect to overcome many of the workforce challenges in the care sector.”

The team from Next Stage collect their trophy



About the organisation
Dulas is a cooperative business, founded in 1982. The company delivers renewable energy solutions to businesses and charities across the globe.

The challenge
Over the past 18 months, Dulas has experienced various business challenges. Principally, the reductions in feed-in tariffs (government incentive payments made to households and businesses generating green electricity) has created a sharp drop in work throughout the industry. Prior to the cuts, Dulas had grown to be a thriving business with more than 100 staff. The scale of the business had outgrown the original company cooperative structure and created a need for strong leadership, focus and resource management. Dulas realised a need to galvanise, re-evaluate and support employee wellbeing.

What the organisation did

  • Examined the benefits offered by the company to see what could be improved to help mitigate potential problems, such as a lack of morale or confusion.
  • Offered a competitive suite of benefits intended to communicate to staff that they are looked after and trusted, including:
    • open-plan offices with quiet rooms for “time out”;
    • a robust dignity at work policy;
    • promoting a work-life balance and encourage employees to take advantage of the flexi-time, home-working and sabbaticals policy;
    • free fruit and drinks and healthy food choices in the staff canteen;
    • private medical insurance and full family travel insurance;
    • free counselling and occupational health services;
    • shares/equity ownership;
    • company car;
    • generous maternity and paternity policy and childcare vouchers;
    • cycle-to-work scheme; and
    • regular staff satisfaction surveys, which are acted upon.
  • Worked with a Welsh Assembly initiative to develop a plan for improving how people feel they are treated at work.
  • Aligned pay levels to industry norms.
  • The board of directors hold regular meetings that are attended by staff representatives; everyone gets a say in what direction the business is taken in.
  • Hold performance reviews to enable employees to discuss training needs and career aspirations. The company encourages internal secondments for employees to develop a greater knowledge and transferrable skills.

Benefits and achievements

  • Dulas’ staff are productive and happy (82.5% of survey respondents reported being always or mostly happy at work in the 2016 company satisfaction survey).
  • High retention figures (91.5%).
  • For a STEM-based company, Dulas has an unusually high number of female employees (42.3% – the average for the industry is 26%) which is likely to be connected to the company’s emphasis on wellbeing in the benefits package.
  • “A company with London levels of benefits in rural Wales.”

Judges’ comments
“A well-structured entry.”

Manchester City Council

About the organisation
Manchester City Council is the local government authority for Manchester, a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester. It is composed of 96 councillors, three for each of the 32 electoral wards of Manchester.

The challenge
In the autumn of 2015, the council undertook two staff surveys. The results made it clear that a lot of what people were asking for was already available via the council’s existing reward and wellbeing package. Staff clearly weren’t making the most of the benefits available to them and the overall sense of employee wellbeing was low. Staff sickness absence levels peaked in January 2015 at 1.19 days per full-time employee per month, which translated as an average of 13 days lost per employee through the calendar year. There was a notable increase in days lost due to reasons such as stress, anxiety and depression.

What the organisation did

  • Held a series of events to promote the wellbeing and reward package, bringing what’s on offer to staff together in one place for the first time.
  • Ran three “marketplace” events with more than 20 exhibitors from the council’s partners and providers.
  • Incorporated a series of talks focused on what employees wanted to hear more about, such as: an introduction to pensions and how to save for retirement; the council’s benefit package and how to maximise savings; and recognising the signs of stress.
  • Offered prizes (three £100 Amazon vouchers, afternoon tea in the town hall, and tickets to a concert) to those attending the events and free massages.
  • Promoted the event on the intranet, via staff emails, flyers and posters, and via managers in team meetings.
  • Offered staff attending one of the marketplace events a free pass to a Manchester gym. The council’s gym provider offered a newly negotiated corporate discounted gym membership to coincide with the events.
  • Planned a number of satellite events for staff that were more difficult to reach (school catering teams, school crossing patrols and family support workers).
  • To ensure the impact of these events is captured and the progress that has been made is sustained, the council is in the process of creating better guidance for managers on how to recognise and reward staff at a local level.

Benefits and achievements

  • The events that took place at three locations across the city attracted 400 staff.
  • The in-depth pension briefings made available to staff, over seven dates in four locations across the city, were attended by 189 staff. An additional 22 staff took advantage of private one-to-one sessions.
  • The health checks, offering advice on preventative strategies and sign posting employees to relevant supportive services, were accessed by 140 staff.
  • Overwhelmingly positive comments from staff attending. Nearly all (96% of) staff said they found the event valuable and 90% rated it as “good” or “very good”.
  • Since February, sickness absence levels have improved. In April, the lowest level of sickness absence in almost 18 months was recorded, with 0.83 days lost per full-time employee.
  • More than 50 staff have signed up to the new discounted gym membership.

Judges’ comments
“The entry highlighted that to make the most of benefits spend, organisations need to make sure that employees are aware of the benefits on offer.”

Sandwell Council

About the organisation
Sandwell Council is the largest employer in the metropolitan borough of Sandwell and employs approximately 4,500 staff.

The challenge
After years of minimal or non-existent public-sector pay awards, and with austerity measures in place, traditional monetary incentives to encourage productivity were limited, and the council recognised the impact that this was having on retaining high-performers and attracting new talent. One of the biggest challenges of launching a new benefits scheme was the effective communication of the range of benefits to the council’s 4,500 employees, working in multiple disparate locations.

What the organisation did

  • Introduced a comprehensive, tailored benefits package that would motivate and engage its 4,500 staff and support the council’s retention strategy and financial objectives.
  • Applied a “total reward” approach to their background research, gaining insights into all aspects of the reward offering and what employees value the most. The council needed to understand its workforce and get a feel for what engages and motivates them, and this needed to be based on evidence, not assumptions.
  • Conducted a council-wide survey, followed by structured, activity-led focus groups, which highlighted the importance employees place on investment in their wellbeing, particularly around supporting an effective work/life balance.
  • The benefits scheme comprised of the following elements: a single reward platform, providing retail discounts and access to the entire benefits offering; a variety of salary-sacrifice options; an employee assistance programme; and local offers in the local economy.
  • Ran a pre- and post-launch marketing campaign to promote the scheme, featuring a dedicated intranet site with a countdown clock, road show events and screen saver on employee computers.
  • Executed the scheme via the council’s “virtual” internal team that works with external provider P&MM, integrating the additional rewards and benefits provided through independent partners under the “Sandwell Employee Benefits” brand. These include: lifestyle discounts through local business offers; travel and leisure discounts; childcare vouchers; cycle-to-work scheme; and annual leave purchase scheme.

Benefits and achievements

  • 1,829 (41%) of employees are registered and participating in Sandwell Employee Benefits.
  • Council employees have saved more than £300,000 in total through benefits.
  • The scheme has been delivered cost-neutrally for the council, and has generated more than £200,000 in savings.
  • Local businesses providing offers are advertised to Sandwell’s staff, helping to support local prosperity.
  • Retention levels within the children’s service, which has a history of recruitment difficulties and is a national and local priority, has improved considerably.
  • The benefits scheme and its outcomes served as evidence to help the council achieve an “Investors in People” bronze accreditation.
  • Between the 2014 and 2015 employee engagement surveys, satisfaction with the level of pay received was up 5%; satisfaction with the total reward package was up 30% to 67% (against a local government benchmark of 54%); and believing that hard work is recognised and rewarded up 5%.
  • Reinvested £100,000 of savings generated from the benefits scheme into new organisational development initiatives, such as: introducing a salary-sacrifice car scheme and car maintenance scheme; funding the “Talent Connect Programme”, which helps to ensure the council has a management and leadership pipeline of talent for the future; and developing an initiative to promote career opportunities to employees and appointing internally wherever possible.

Judges’ comments
“Good to see a benefits offering clearly linked to organisational strategy.”

University of Sheffield

About the organisation
The University of Sheffield is a world top-100 university renowned for its excellence, impact and distinctiveness in research-led learning and teaching. It employs around 7,200 staff.

The challenge
The university’s approach to rewarding staff was out of sync with its overall ambitions. Its vision is to be one of the best universities, renowned for excellence, impact and distinctiveness. Aligning with this, the university’s people strategy aims to create a remarkable place to work, and reward is an integral element.

What the organisation did

  • Through focus group research and engaging with stakeholders, developed a new reward strategy that is focused on performance and contribution.
  • Re-negotiated the local framework agreement on reward that had been in place for 10 years and reached agreement with trade unions in March 2015.
  • Brought together all elements of the reward offer under a single brand (“The Deal”) to maximise staff understanding and engagement.
  • Developed line managers’ skills to help them differentiate on performance and reward and introduced a recognition scheme to provide managers with a range of tools to reward and recognise their staff.
  • Communicated the reward offer on the internet, posters, roadshows, manager training and emails.
  • Continuously reinforced that pay progression is based on contribution and experience gained – not on length of service.
  • Devolved decision making around pay progression, bonus payments and senior reward arrangements to each faculty to allow them to consider the contribution of staff.
  • Staff can view their package, access offers and make benefit choices through a personalised online reward portal. There are also total reward statements highlighting the benefits of working for the university.

Benefits and achievements

  • In the 15 months since the strategy has been in place, the university has made significant progress towards a culture of recognition and reward for performance and contribution.
  • In the 2016 staff survey, 64% agreed with the statement “I believe that the university rewards and recognises people for excellent performance”.
  • Seventy per cent of staff are now satisfied that their contribution and performance is appropriately recognised by the university’s total reward package (up 7% on 2014 results) and 80% are satisfied with the reward package.
  • Around 2,300 (30% of) staff have received an additional reward or recognition for contribution and performance, compared to around 350 (5%) staff under previous arrangements.
  • Since launching the Recognition Awards in September 2015, 5115 awards have been made across the university’s 74 departments.
  • Feedback from a line manager: “We’ve valued the flexibility and the ability to recognise [staff] throughout the year, not just a few people annually.”
  • Engagement with The Deal brand has been good; every time a staff email is sent, there are thousands of logins to the portal which has resulted in increased take up of benefits.

Judges’ comments
“The recognition element of the strategy was clearly a success.”

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