Becoming a big company with big company benefits

As a growing business, it can be hard to tempt the cream of recruits away from big companies touting enticing benefits plans. But cheaper alternatives are available to attract candidates in their droves. Here we take a look at your options.

Gym membership, a car, perhaps even comprehensive healthcare – the cream of the employment market may look for such benefits as part of their employment package. The trouble is, only larger businesses can afford to offer them. So where does that leave growing businesses? They need to attract talent as well, yet they face a constant struggle to build profits and invest in growth.

Attracting talent

So what can you do? You need great people to help your business reach its goals, but if all the talent is being magnetised by multi-nationals then surely attracting a good calibre of staff for your own company is something of a pipedream?

Andy Wilkins is chief executive of Gwent Hospitals Contributory Fund, an organisation providing cost-effective healthcare plans for businesses. His solution for small firms is to shop around to find scaled-down versions of big company incentives.

“It is still very important for small firms to attract and retain the best talent but it is difficult for them to compete with the large corporates’, he says. “There are more cost-effective benefits that SMEs can offer; in our case it would be a health cash plan instead of a more costly and often under-used private medical insurance scheme.”

Stephen Archer, director of business consultancy Spring Partnerships, agrees that finding a balance is vital, but he goes a step further, arguing that small businesses can offer incentives that their bigger rivals cannot.

“Smaller firms offer many intrinsic benefits over larger ones such as being ‘a larger cog in a smaller machine’ and having a shorter career path,” he says.“Having started and built a small business I am very aware of the challenges of attracting people and offering competitive benefits but there are certainly some that the bigger companies find harder to offer.”

Tactical thinking

The trick is to think smartly. First, consider what you want to achieve by setting up a benefits package, and then calculate whether, in all probability, you will make a profit on your expenditure. In other words, will your rewards lead to a dedicated and hard-working team of people?

Next, you need to consider how those benefits should be distributed. Do you give perks across the business to junior and senior employees alike? Or do you pick and choose who gets what, perhaps saving the best benefits for the people who will help your business go places. Do you introduce benefits after certain criteria have been met – perhaps after loyalty has been proven or staff reach specific sales targets? There’s a lot to decide.

Flexible benefits

Once you have the structure in place, think about what kind of things to offer. Gold-plated Bentley? Unlikely. Consider your budget, company structure and future strategy, then meld them together to create a plan based on tangible and intangible benefits.

Oliver Gray, managing director of energiseYou, believes flexibility – not money – is the key to happiness. “The best benefit you can offer employees is an amazing working environment and this has a direct impact on people’s happiness and their performance at work. This is much easier to implement in a small organisation because those at the top are still very visible.

“There has definitely been a shift over the last few years and achieving a positive work-life balance is becoming a lot more important to employees. They not only want to enjoy the work that they do and work in a great environment but they also want time to enjoy activities outside work.”

Even seemingly premium benefits, like a contributory pension scheme for example, don’t have to break the bank if you give some thought to how they are implemented, according to Nigel Crebbin, employment lawyer at Manchester-based firm Berg.

“Pension schemes can be a very attractive benefit, and if you’re working with a limited budget for a new position, it may make the package more of a draw if you reduce the salary slightly, but offer to make contributions to a pension scheme.

“In relation to healthcare, there are a number of options for smaller employers to choose from. BUPA, for example, are currently targeting the small business market, with employee health insurance schemes particularly aimed at employers with restricted budgets.

“There are also schemes that don’t cover employees entirely, but give them the option of claiming back certain health-related expenses, such as optical and dental costs.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Gaijar, a consultant at Lorica Employee Benefits, argues that packages tailored to individuals are the way forward. She says, “Understanding employee needs and tailoring the solution would be more prudent than overspending on benefits that may not appeal. Flexible benefits are a great way of managing this.

“For example, a flexible benefit scheme allows the employee – rather than the employer –to decide what benefits they want. We would encourage conducting a focus group or survey to increase awareness of employee needs.”

The message seems to be this: if you go head-to-head with a big corporate benefit scheme then you’ll probably go bust. But if you research appealing alternatives and create a great environment in which your people can work, you’ll still attract some top talent.

Think about what employees actually want. Flexible working, real responsibility, incentives that give new recruits the chance to stretch their wings, open lines of communication across the board. A supportive environment is a real ‘benefit’, particularly to new talent. A ‘nice’ place to work is often just as valuable an incentive as an attractive salary package. You’ll get the best from your happy and enthusiastic employees – and it doesn’t cost a thing.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK