Flexible Benefits – What They Are and How to Use Them 

Flexible Benefits – What They Are and How to Use Them 

Over the past few decades, lifestyles have become more flexible and people are able to differentiate in their choices about practically everything. This isn’t just a consumer trend: businesses have also become wise to the fact that their employees all have different needs that need to be catered for.  

This has resulted in organisations taking a more individualistic approach to benefit provision.  

In this blog, we explore what flexible benefits are, why they’re a popular choice and how your business can implement and get the most from them. 

What Are Flexible Benefits? 

 All organisations provide employee benefits which are usually determined by grade. In most instances, the more senior the role, the more valuable the benefits package. Depending on seniority, core employee benefit packages, where the benefits are paid for by the employer, typically include items like: 

  • company car 
  • holidays 
  • private medical insurance 
  • critical illness cover 
  • long-term health cover 
  • health checks 

In addition, employers also often voluntary benefits like think discounted gym memberships, dental insurance and household or holiday insurance. Employees can choose to take up these products voluntarily, paying for the benefits themselves, usually out of their pay. 

This approach is fine if the core benefits on offer meet every employee’s needs. But what if your employer provides a company car but you don’t drive? Or you’re already covered on your partner’s private medical insurance so you don’t gain any advantage from this benefit? Or you don’t have any dependents but your employer insists on providing life cover any way? 

When benefits aren’t suitable for employees, companies are paying for benefits that aren’t used or they’re providing an unappetising benefit offering to their staff that fails to engage.   

Flexible benefit programmes provide a solution to this problem. Instead of offering standard benefit packages in the usual way, flexible benefit packages enable employees to vary their pay and benefits to meet their personal requirements.  

In most schemes, staff can retain their existing salary while selecting the right mix of benefits for them. Or they can adjust their salary up or down by taking fewer or more benefits.  

Let’s look at some examples to explore how this works: 

  • A single employee rejects the family private medical insurance cover they’re entitled to due to their grade and opts for single cover only – they receive the cost difference in cash 
  • Someone who doesn’t take all their holidays each year chooses to sell five days holiday and uses the saving to take up family private medical cover with the rest taken as cash 
  • An individual who doesn’t drive forgoes the company car benefit and takes the cash instead – they use it to buy more holiday and take up dental insurance and gym membership  

These are just a few examples of the sorts of flexibility flexible benefit schemes can offer. However, not all programmes will be this flexible; some employers decide that their staff must take a certain level of benefits (usually items like life cover or other insurances) as a minimum. And there are other considerations, like minimum pension auto-enrolment contributions, that need to be worked into the scheme. 

How Many Companies Use Flexible Schemes? 

According to Aon, just 12% of employers operate flexible benefit schemes. Which is surprising given research from Willis Towers Watson which shows that: 

  • 66% of employees who are offered choice in their benefits report their benefits meet their needs 
  • 30% of employees who are not offered choice in their benefits report their benefits meet their needs

However, the answer could lie in the perceived challenges associated with setting up and running a flexible benefit scheme.  

What to Consider When Setting Up a Flexible Benefits Programme 

There’s a lot to think about if you want to set up a flexible benefits scheme in your organisation: 

  • Online or paper – this might work for smaller businesses or those where staff don’t have access to computers. Otherwise online options, although more expensive, tend to offer ease of use and greater flexibility. 
  • Choosing benefit options – it’s easiest to transition your existing benefits to a flex scheme before expanding the options available. You’ll need to decide which benefits must be selected or whether you want to allow a more flexible approach. 
  • Keeping schemes up to date – every change in your benefits, tax and legislation must be reflected in your scheme which involves additional work in terms of configuring scheme rules, calculations and systems (if online). 

Although each of these sounds fairly straight forward, flexible benefit schemes can quickly become complex and require technical decision making which requires HR specialist knowledge.  

However, the pay off could well be worth the effort as flexible benefits help organisations stand out in the recruitment marketplace. And they can also be a powerful tool for retention as your benefit package will meet the needs of every segment of your workforce, regardless of life stage.  

There’s a lot to think about if you want to set up a successful flexible benefits scheme, so consider working with a seasoned HR consultant to ensure you deliver legally and secure a great return on your investment. 

For flexible support with all your HR projects, get in touch with Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at hello@crossehr.co.uk. 

 

Employee Engagement –  What it Really Means and How to Manage it on a Budget

Employee Engagement – What it Really Means and How to Manage it on a Budget

Employee engagement. Everyone wants it, but what does it actually mean? And how do you create it if you don’t have a heap of money to throw at any engagement challenges? We answer all these questions and more in our latest blog.

One Term, Many Views

Look up the term “employee engagement” and you’ll find lots of different definitions.

At Crosse HR, we believe employee engagement is a state of being that’s reflected in higher levels of employee motivation and job satisfaction. This results in an increased commitment to an individual’s role and the organisation. And discretionary effort over and above that which people would normally give to their role.

A wide range of research has shown that higher levels of engagement result in motivated workforces, improved talent retention, reduced absenteeism, enhanced employee wellbeing and, ultimately, a better bottom line.

No wonder businesses are keen to ensure high levels of engagement amongst their workforces.

However, most organisations have no formal engagement strategy in place and two-thirds of employees are disengaged.

So how can you get ahead of your competitors, do what’s right by your people and achieve employee engagement, even on a small budget?

Low-Cost Employee Engagement Solutions

Ask and You’ll Receive

Employee engagement initiatives need to be well, engaging. Research often identifies issues like poor management or a disconnect with the organisation’s mission, vision and values as drivers of poor engagement. However, before you invest time in engagement activities, it’s worth understanding your organisation’s specific issues so you can deliver focussed solutions.

For genuine staff insight, try gathering employee feedback via surveys or focus groups. It can pay to hire someone in from outside your organisation to carry out the research to ensure you get completely honest responses.

Not got the capacity or budget to carry out a survey or hold a focus group? Our article on the different demographics in your workforce and their needs gives great insight into what each age group values.

Communicate What’s on Offer

If your people don’t feel well rewarded for their work, the chances are they won’t give their best effort. Put this right by helping your staff understand what’s in it for them with total reward communications.

Comms can explain any bonus schemes, demonstrate the value of your pension contributions or show staff the benefits and discounts they’re entitled to. It’s worth asking your benefit providers to help you get the word out with branded posters for example. This kind of support is usually free and helps your staff understand what’s in it for them.  

Words Are Valuable and Cost Little

Communication – lack of it or not the right sort – is often a major employee complaint. And it can be really damaging to employee engagement.

Businesses often focus on what they want to tell employees rather than what employees want to hear. So taking the time to understand which communications your employees want will pay dividends. Particularly if you create opportunities for two-way communications.

Allow your people to have their say with engagement or pulse surveys and other opportunities to feedback directly to leaders. This will allow employees to express their views while giving you the opportunity to find out what’s irritating them so you can take action.

Investing in this virtuous feedback loop will ensure your organisation continues to improve taking employee engagement to new highs.  

Create a Culture That Works For Everyone

Modern employees want to work with their employers not for them. Which means taking a collaborative, partnership approach to working relationships.

What does this look like in reality? You could:

  • Make your mission, vision and values clear and give broad direction that’s aligned to them rather than micro-managing your staff
  • Show people that you trust them by treating them like adults, for example allowing flexible working and enabling people to work from locations other than the office
  • Give employees a hand in their own job design and objective-setting, helping them play to their strengths
  • Facilitate whole person growth by funding personal and career development activities

Recognise Your People

Those two little words – thank you – are more important than many managers realise. Not hearing them enough is one of the main reasons people leave their employer.

Doing the basics, like taking your team out for a drink after work or paying for lunch can go a long way to saying thank you. If your recognition budget is zero, you could award an employee of the month certificate, create a wall of amazing customer feedback or give top performers an afternoon off.

Driving employee engagement is every business leader’s responsibility. Changing your business can’t all fall on one person’s shoulders, so ensure your managers are brought into any changes to ensure their success.

If employee engagement is dragging your business results down, work with Crosse HR to diagnose your issues and prescribe a range of effective solutions. Whatever your budget, get in touch on 0330 555 1139 or at hello@crossehr.co.uk.


Holidays – the silly season is nearly upon us

Holidays – the silly season is nearly upon us

This is the time of year the rows start – the annual leave booking season. Wall calendars and online calendars are pored over and leave is booked, most of it around the same time, there will be rows between parents and non parents about who should take priority and why and on we go.

So it makes sense to have a few set of rules to try and take the tension out of the whole thing.

Firstly be clear about how much leave can be blocked in one go i.e. one, two week blocks (financial services now insist on this), if there is a cap i.e. two weeks maximum etc

Secondly, be clear how much advance notice must be given, a month’s notice is usually acceptable if you want to book a week, 2 days is not acceptable if you want to book anything at all and if leave needs to be approved by a manager or some such.

Thirdly, be clear leave can be refused, obviously as a last resort and with good reason but it’s good to get the story straight.

Fourthly, be very clear about how many employees can be out at the same time. It never ceases to amaze me, no matter how often you say it and set the limits, they will give it a go anyway and all book the same time off and fight about it for weeks afterwards.

Fifthly, be very clear what precedents you want to set i.e. if you had the first two weeks off in July last year, you might not get it this year, same goes for half terms, school holidays and Christmas.

Sixthly, what the rules are if you are sick on holidays (holiday can be claimed back if proven), if your flight is delayed (usually unpaid, get proof) and you don’t get back when you are supposed to, the rules around social media and mixing the professional with personal, working on holiday, using the work mobile on holiday etc.

And as an aside, it’s amazing how many of my clients who are schools that have set holidays agreed years in advance, encounter the same problems with leave! So if you are a school struggling with leave requests outside of school holidays, call me 0330 555 1139.

Finally, be fair, consistent and apply the rules to all staff, no exceptions.

If in doubt contact CrosseHR, we’ll draft a policy for you to be proud of.

New Government Pay Rates

The government has announced the new rates that will apply from April:

Cap on a week’s pay for the purposes of calculating statutory redundancy payments and the basic award for unfair dismissal: £525
Guarantee pay: £29 per day
Statutory sick pay: £94.25 per week
Statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay: £148.68

National Minimum Wage:

Over 25                            £8.21
Adult rate (over 21)                       £7.70
Development rate (18 – 20)         £6.15     
School leavers (16 – 17)                £4.35
Apprentices                                    £3.90

More details can be found here.

Managing the Multi-generational Divide

Managing the Multi-generational Divide

With more people living and working longer, businesses need to accommodate more generations than at any time before. Managing employees at different life stages, often with completely different levels of experience and world views, can be a challenge. So here’s our guide to successfully managing across the multi-generational divide.

The Generation Game

There are now five generations in the workplace as the following research from Barclays shows.

Maturists – pre-1945

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 3%
  • Aspiration: home ownership
  • Attitude to technology: largely disengaged
  • Attitude to career: a job is for life
  • Communication media: formal letter
  • Communication preference: face to face

Baby Boomers – 1945 – 1960

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 33%
  • Aspiration: job security
  • Attitude to technology: early IT adopters
  • Attitude to career: careers are defined by employer
  • Communication media: telephone
  • Communication preference: face to face but phone or email if required

Generation X – 1961 – 1980

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 35%
  • Aspiration: work-life balance
  • Attitude to technology: digital immigrants
  • Attitude to career: early portfolio careers; loyalty to profession not employer
  • Communication media: email and SMS
  • Communication preference: email and SMS

Generation Y – 1981 – 1995

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 29%
  • Aspiration: freedom and flexibility
  • Attitude to technology: digital natives
  • Attitude to career: digital entrepreneurs; work with organisations not for
  • Communication media: text or social media
  • Communication preference: online and mobile messaging

Generation Z – born after 1995

  • Percentage in UK workforce: currently employed in part-time jobs or new apprenticeships
  • Aspiration: security and stability
  • Attitude to technology: technoholics; entirely dependent on IT, low grasp of alternatives
  • Attitude to career: career multitaskers; will move seamlessly between organisations and pop-up businesses
  • Communication media: hand-held or integrated into clothing devices
  • Communication preference: facetime

So what can you do to manage across these generations? What are the golden threads that link them all?

Encourage Diversity

It’s now well accepted that diversity brings different perspectives and more innovation and creativity. And research shows that more diverse groups tend to focus, question and process facts better than homogenous groups.

Generational diversity also presents the same advantages. To make the most of the full range of experience within your business, encourage employees to work with and listen to people from different age groups.

Cross-generational teams are a good way to share more experienced team members’ insights. And those with less experience can bring completely fresh ideas to the table to prevent thinking from becoming stale.

Cross-training – sharing skills between different roles – will also help to deliver a cross-pollination of perspectives. Which will keep younger generations engaged while respecting the experience of older team members.

Deliver Communications via Multiple Channels

Communication is key to management. But a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work across the different age groups in your business.

Creating a multi-channel communications plan is the best way to ensure you communicate with everyone effectively. Include face-to-face briefings and invest in business social media platforms and blogs as well as the usual all-staff emails, posters and newsletters.

Create Development Opportunities That Appeal to All

Baby Boomers want a career defined by you, their employer. Younger generations want flexibility. The way to appeal to everyone is to create career paths and development opportunities that offer the best of both worlds. Here are a few ideas:

  • Allow employees to switch between disciplines to gain new skills and share best practice
  • Create a career break policy so staff can take time out form work and come back to their job; this also creates openings for others to step into
  • Provide funding for your staff to pursue interests outside of work – by taking them outside of their comfort zone, you’ll help them gain experience that can be redeployed in work

Apply Flexibility to All

Flexible working conjures images of young people working from a trendy cafe. But it can be a lot more than that.

Creating a truly flexible working policy that appeals to all ages is a great way to keep everyone on board. Be open to the idea of letting Generation X employees work from home or create open workspaces that enable Generation Y staff to collaborate with their team.

Maturists and Baby Boomers might like the option to work part-time hours in the wind-down to retirement. And allowing those with caring responsibilities – whether for children or ageing parents – to work flexibly is another way to appeal to all workers.

Although there are marked differences in the ways different generations relate to work, there are lots of ways to manage across the divide. By implementing these ideas, you’ll engage everyone in your workforce and reap the rewards with improved performance and a better bottom line.

For support implementing management tools to harness all your workers, get in touch with Crosse HR at hello@crossehr.co.uk or on 0330 555 1139.

3 Ideas for Managing Staff Holidays Over Christmas 

3 Ideas for Managing Staff Holidays Over Christmas 

We all expect the odd argument over the festive period. But workplace conflict often comes before December 25th as everyone competes for time off work.  

Don’t leave holiday decision making to the last minute. Keep your staff on-side and your business running with these three ideas for managing staff Christmas holidays. 

# 1 – Start the Conversation Early 

As a general rule of thumb, employees should ask for holiday with twice the amount of notice as the leave being taken. That means if one of your team wants two weeks off over Christmas, they need to ask four weeks before the first day of leave.   

For employers, the rules are slightly less stringent as you only need to provide like-for-like notice. If you’re going to refuse a holiday request for one week’s leave, you should provide your refusal at least one week before it’s due to start. 

Many employees will seek to take at least seven working days off over Christmas. So you need to allow enough time for leave to be requested, decisions to be made and approval or refusal to be given. 

A good way to make decisions quickly, is to hold team meetings. This allows you to communicate the cover you need and identify anyone who’s willing to work. If you’ve got sufficient voluntary cover, this could resolve any issues before they arise. 

# 2 – Use Technology 

Christmas is often a quiet period for many businesses, which could make home working a great way to keep your doors virtually open.  

If you produce physical goods, it’s likely that you’ll shut production down over the festive period, although you might require someone to answer emails and calls. This kind of work can easily be carried out from home if you have the relevant call divert and IT systems. 

Service businesses are also well placed to enable employees to work from home given the right technology. But you’ll need to trust employees to work from a convenient location – whether that’s their own home or a relative’s.  

This approach sends a good signal about your level of confidence in your staff. And by enabling those who support the business to work flexibly, potentially even with reduced hours to fit around other commitments, your team will thank you for it.  

# 3 – Be Firm, Flexible and Fair 

As an employer you are legally entitled to prevent employees from taking holiday. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be human. Being clear about what’s required and giving everyone the same opportunity to have time off is a good way to be firm but fair.  

If there’s one person who always gets their holiday request in early, let them know that you need to ensure everyone has an equitable chance of doing the same. Ask all staff to put in their requests by an agreed deadline and let everyone know you’ll make a decision with all the information to hand.  

If you do need someone to sacrifice their holiday, you could tell them that they’ll be first in line for summer holiday requests.  

Or ask employees to choose between time off over Christmas or New Year. This could work well if some of your workforce have young children as they’re more likely to prioritise Christmas. Those without kids might be happier to have time off to celebrate new year. 

Christmas holiday pressure is also another reason for ensuring staff diversity. Non-Christians could be happy to work over the Christmas period in return for time off at other times of the year. For example, to cover their own religious festivals. 

By showing employees that everyone is being treated in line with the same rules, they’re less likely to feel resentful if they don’t get the time off they want.  

With most people celebrating Christmas, you’re bound to get a deluge of holiday requests. Putting a fair plan in place well in advance is vital to ensure employee engagement and business continuity. 

If you need pragmatic advice on any HR topic, get in touch on 0330 555 1139 or at hello@crossehr.co.uk

 

The Telltale Signs of Poor Employee Mental Health

The Telltale Signs of Poor Employee Mental Health

British stiff upper lips can mean mental health is a topic that’s rarely discussed. But with 12.5 million working days lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2016/2017, spotting the telltale signs of poor employee mental health is business critical.  

We look at five red flags that show all’s not well with your workforce and we review how you can take the initiative in opening up mental health discussion in your organisation.  

Red Flag #1 – Silly Mistakes 

We all make silly mistakes from time to time. But when you notice someone making more errors than usual, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.  

Maybe your employee is turning over a problem in their mind making it difficult to concentrate. Or perhaps raised anxiety levels and adrenaline mean they’re easily distracted. Both behaviours can be a sign of an underlying problem.  

Red Flag #2 – Short Tempers or Skittishness 

When the usually calm and kind Jane snaps, shouts or loses her temper, it’s time for a chat.  

You might also find that people who are suffering with mental health problems speed up and talk more or faster or jump between topics. All these behaviours are a result of a cortisol spike or a long-term increase in adrenaline.  

While some people are naturally more likely to flare up or topic-hop than others, you need to be aware of times when this is out of the ordinary for a particular individual. Then be prepared to step in. 

Red Flag #3 – Flat-lining  

Keep your eye out for any staff who are unusually quiet or who fail to see the funny side of things. If something goes wrong and an individual gets a bit teary, becomes subdued or leaves the room, you might find that they’re feeling overwhelmed. 

Other signs of mental ill health can include people avoiding social situations like team lunches or drinks after work.  

Forcing people to join in or expecting someone to resolve this situation alone is a definite no-no. Instead, take them to one side and check in to make sure they’re ok.  

Red Flag #4 – Alcohol on the Breath 

Everyone has the odd mid-week evening when they really need a drink. But if one of your team is regularly coming into work with alcohol on their breath, you need to address the situation.  

This isn’t just for the wellbeing of the individual concerned but for the safety of those around them, particularly in roles where staff drive or operate machinery. Immediate action is called for in this case to prevent an accident. 

Red Flag #5 – Appearance 

Appearance might only be skin deep but it can tell us a lot about an individual’s state of mind. When we’re under pressure, or feeling exhausted due to depression, self-care can be one of the first things to go.  

Someone who’s looking a bit dishevelled, seems to showering less or is failing to take care of their appearance might be struggling to maintain their mental health.   

Another telltale sign can be an individual’s weight. People with anxiety often feel like they don’t want to eat due to the high levels of adrenaline in their system. Others find that depression and anxiety make them turn to food for comfort.  

Either way, weight can be a good indicator that someone is struggling. Of course, referencing someone’s appearance is not a good jumping off point for a supportive conversation. So, what should you do to help your staff? 

Take the Mental Health Wellbeing Initiative 

Talking about mental health is the first step to addressing it. As a leader, it can be encouraging to talk about the support you find helpful and the tactics you use to keep on top of stress and anxiety. 

One way to to help is to ask your team for a list of early signs of mental distress and the tactics that aid them. They can share these with you so you know what to look out for and the best way to intervene.  

Beyond this, developing a wellness plan for your business will formalise your response as an organisation and also helps employees know that you care about their wellbeing.  

Keeping an eye on your employee’s mental wellbeing is good for your staff and your business. By following the advice in this article, you’ll be ready to spot issues and respond appropriately when your employees need you most.  

To develop your employee wellbeing plan, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at hello@crossehr.co.uk.

 

Should You Monitor Employee Emails?

Should You Monitor Employee Emails?

“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.”  

― George Orwell, 1984 

Nobody wants to be accused of being Big Brother, but monitoring employees’ emails is perfectly legal if you go about it in the right way. So, what should you do – monitor or not? 

Data Protection and Employee Rights 

As a business owner, you need to make sure your employees are carrying out their work effectively. You also have a responsibility to ensure they’re not using work email to do things they shouldn’t. Like sending offensive emails or sharing unprotected data. At the same time, you don’t want to encroach on your employees’ privacy or demonstrate a lack of trust.   

Before we consider whether you should monitor employees emails, let’s take a look at whether you can.  

The Information Commissioner’s Office states that, in general, it is considered intrusive to monitor your employees’ emails.   

That’s because employees have a right to respect for a private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This means people can send personal emails from a work computer and email address and expect them not to be monitored or read by employers.   

But what about work email?  

It’s perfectly legal for employers to monitor employees’ emails as long as certain criteria are fulfilled. This includes being: 

  • clear about the reasons for the monitoring 
  • satisfied that the monitoring arrangement is justified by real benefits 
  • clear with employees for the reasons, extent and nature of any monitoring that’s in place 

If you decide to monitor, you’ll need to warn employees that emails sent from a work computer may be observed. A good way to do this is to include suitable wording in your contract of employment. 

Before implementing a monitoring policy, employers must carry out an assessment of the proposed activity to establish 

  • the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring 
  • any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff 
  • whether the monitoring can be achieved through any less intrusive means   
  • whether the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above 

Think you might have sufficient reason to monitor? Then the next thing to consider is proportion.  

In-depth or Light-touch? 

Depending on your business and sector there may be highly valid reasons for monitoring staff email. For example, financial services organisations often monitor communications to ensure sensitive data is not being shared, accidentally or otherwise.  

However, all businesses considering email monitoring should act proportionately and fairly to achieve the right balance between organisational needs and employee privacy.

In most cases assessing the date, time and recipient or sender of an email will help you determine whether it relates to work or not. Reading private emails, particularly those that contain confidential information is likely to breach an employees’ privacy.  

Automated email monitoring can analyse huge amounts of email traffic, spot inappropriate content and deliver reports for managers. This distances managers from the emails themselves and raises a red flag indicating that further investigation is required.

Before jumping straight into an in-depth review of an employee’s inbox, it can often be a good idea to hold a meeting. By discussing how the individual has been using email and the kinds of information they’ve sent you can decide on a proportionate response.  

The Potential Impact of Email Monitoring  

Monitoring employees’ emails can create an atmosphere of distrust if implemented and acted on incorrectly.  

In some sectors, like those with significant data protection requirements, employees are likely to be more understanding of the need for monitoring. However, organisations where data is less sensitive may not find employees so tolerant. 

Should any breach in policy be identified, managers’ next steps are key to how your monitoring policy is perceived. Managers using the information inappropriately will bring the policy intro disrepute. However, used effectively – to curtail inappropriate behaviour or prevent action being taken against the business – employees will likely support the policy.  

Coupled with well-handled conversations and a genuine respect for employees’ privacy, email monitoring can be helpful for businesses. However, history has shown most people don’t appreciate their emails being monitored so introducing this policy requires careful handling.

If you do decide to go down this route ensure you’re acting legally, in line with your policy and for the good of your employees as well as the health of your business.  

For help navigating email monitoring and other employment contract issues, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at hello@crossehr.co.uk.