Why non-financial benefits are not always successful

John Burnell offers advice on getting staff to use the benefits your organisation offers

Q: My organisation has been making an effort to offer staff more non-financial benefits, such as reduced-cost gym membership and book sales.

A: We promote these by email or posters around the office, but uptake has been low. Should we think about giving up on such offers?

First of all, ask yourself why you wanted to offer such benefits in the first place.

Was it to help with recruitment? If so, can you demonstrate that you've secured better quality candidates as a result? If not, you need to focus your recruitment efforts elsewhere.

Do you have a problem with staff retention, and has this helped? If not, try to find out the real reasons why you are losing staff and make some necessary and probably long-overdue adjustments.

Have the benefits been offered instead of pay increases? Several voluntary sector organisations are doing this at the moment. If so, you've got away with a cheap alternative and there's no reason to withdraw it, especially if your staff or union were keen on the idea as an alternative to pay cuts. Whether or not staff take up the benefits available to them, they like to know these things are part of the deal. The same goes for the philanthropic organisation that just thought it would be nice to give its staff a better deal. Some staff will enjoy what's on offer, even if the majority don't.

But it could be that you just gave out the benefits without researching whether or not they would be popular. Next time - and it's always easy to say this with hindsight - why not consult your staff about the benefits they would really like to see, and perhaps even offer them a choice?

Another point to consider is how you are promoting the benefits. You might think that posters and email broadcasts are a good idea, but perhaps the message just isn't getting through. There are many products that have failed not because they are useless, but because no demand was created for them. Ask around for better ideas about how to get the message across.

Finally, if the cost of promoting the benefits is getting disproportionate, then it's time to review them anyway. Consult your staff before withdrawing them, and consider passing some of the savings on in benefits that they really would value.

John Burnell, director of Personnel Solutions

Send your HR questions to John.Burnell@personnel-solutions.org.uk

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