I was asked by Glyndwr University last week to give a talk based on my own experiences (as a business owner and a recruiter) of providing rewards and benefits to our employees in the current job market and also to discuss the way remote working has impacted any changes in rewards and benefits offered or provided or managed.
Rewards are essentially performance related bonuses or motivations given to employees or contractors in order to provide them with an increase on any basic payments for any outstanding work or achievements.
These are essentially additions to basic pay which can include things like pension contributions, season ticket loans, golf club membership, gym club membership, life insurance, death in service, health insurance and much more besides.
There is a whole cottage industry around benefits and rewards, as well as academic qualifications etc.. and we often get contacted by organisations providing schemes to enable employees to purchase discount vouchers for high street stores or to join larger corporate membership schemes such as golf clubs etc.
However, working in a small business where cash flow is not always the strongest and there is a small team of workers essentially providing services for a small profit to the owners, it can be hard to offer too much in the way of rewards and benefits. As an example our company offers:
Unlimited Annual Leave
100% Remote Working
Company Electric Cars
‘Unlimited annual leave’ created a stir amongst the HR professionals I was giving a talk to at Glyndwr Uni – they simply couldn’t see how this would work in practice! More on this in a future article..
The Legal Sector
As recruiters working in the legal sector with mostly smaller sized employers, it is fairly typical to see no benefits or rewards at all offered in addition to a salary. In fact very often the conversation with the employer when making a job offer will be along the lines of, “We would like to offer this candidate a salary of £45,000, statutory annual leave plus 25 days, and that’s it – take it or leave it.” No rewards, no benefits, because the owner of that business has determined that the reward and benefit to the employee is a job in itself.
The Psychology of Rewards & Benefits in SME Businesses
In our own business I have found over the time I have had a team working with me that everybody is motivated by different things. If you were to offer the same rewards and benefits package to everybody then it would be considerably varied in terms of the responses we would get.
So for example, we pay one recruitment consultant commission on every single placement completed and a fairly low basic salary on top. This means that the recruitment consultant is constantly dependent on the market in order to boost their wages, but that particular recruitment consultant really likes working for commission and does not want to switch to a salaried role with salary reviews being the only way to get an increase.
Similarly, we have a recruitment consultant who most certainly does not want any commission at all because they require certainty every month and a consistent income. They have very little motivation to receive commission and instead work for us because a) we are nice, b) we provide unlimited annual leave, c) we offer totally flexible hours of work, and d) we are an extremely ethical company which fits with that particular person’s own values. We don’t seek to exploit this at all, but instead review the salary every six months to make sure that it is at a level that is fair to both parties (i.e. us and the employee).
We have also had an employee join us to run one of our companies and after a few weeks it was pretty obvious that the best way of maximising that person’s potential was to offer them equity in the business. This is a decision that we have not regretted in the least, as the turnover on that particular business has rocketed to levels we could not possibly have imagined five years ago. This particular way of rewarding or benefiting would not be of interest to a lot of people – that particular person was offered a job with us with three different options as to the way that we could remunerate them, and they opted specifically for the equity option coupled with low income. I suspect if I had asked one hundred people which option they would have gone for to run that particular business, only about two or three would have opted for the more risky equity choice.
I suspect that generally in business the rewards and benefits packages in most small businesses are to all extents and purposes a bit irrelevant in terms of retaining staff, recruiting and encouraging performance. The only real way of doing these things is to increase the base salary, because this is why everybody works and be flexible on working conditions and hours. It is true that things like company cars can be a huge benefit and having things on top of salary that save in tax can benefit both the employer and the employee, but the reality is that most people simply want hard cash when it comes to work, and for smaller businesses this is really the only way of rewarding employees fairly for the work that they do unless they are specifically interested in bonus schemes or commission.
Cash is King
I’ll finish this article with a bit of an anecdote from a large law firm we were recruiting for (or at least trying to recruit for but failing miserably!) last year and it centres around a Zoom call we had with their HR director. The HR director of this client spent about 30 minutes on the call with us telling us all about the benefits a potential new recruit would have if they were to join this particular company (which incidentally has a £50,000,000 turnover, very plush offices, lots of employees but a seemingly high turnover of staff). We found out all about their prosecco and pizza days, their collegiate mentality, their wear casual clothes to work, cycle to work schemes, company clubs and activities, Christmas events, charity fundraising events, games room and slightly flexible working options which all sounded absolutely great. Both me and my colleague who were on the call were very impressed with what we were hearing, until we got down to the base salary that they were looking to pay for this particular role – a finance manager. Our expectation as recruiters for this role in terms of salary would be something around the £50-75,000 mark plus benefits. We discovered that this firm were looking to pay £30,000 tops and perhaps the reason the HR director had spent so long telling us about all the benefits was to counteract the fact that they were unbelievably miserly when it came to paying proper real world salaries to their staff!
Benefits v Salary
Which is the right approach? I suspect that it is a mix of the two in that you cannot simply push all the benefits and rewards to a potential employee without there actually being a good base salary there in the first place to motivate someone to leave another job and join their business. Similarly, in order to retain staff you do have to have a good working environment. However, not paying a decent base salary is almost akin to saying that you are not particularly a very good employer at all, because good employers reward their staff financially as well as with the conditions they work in.