If you hadn’t already noticed, Brexit is still making the headlines.
At the time of writing, it looks as though we’re finally edging out of the EU’s exit door – with a Brexit deal now being accepted by our European neighbours, but a delay until the 31st January 2020 being put in place to allow yet more debate in Parliament.
There are still snags to be worked out, however, and our steps into the brave new post-EU world could still yet be delayed beyond the new January 31st deadline.
This is playing havoc with the fragile British economy – with the value of the Great British Pound peaking and plunging like a roller-coaster on a near-daily basis. As a result, caution reigns supreme in the jobs market; with private businesses in particular expecting to cut back on expenditures such as pay rises into 2020 and beyond.
In the public sector however, the story seems a little more positive. But is all as it seems?
1 STEP FORWARD, 1 STEP BACK?
The Office of National Statistics has reported that wages this year have risen by an average of 3.9% - driven in the most part by the unusual timing of a pay increase for public health workers that had been deferred from July.
Whilst those figures seem positive on the surface, the truth is that wages in the public sector are only just keeping pace with inflation and the rising cost of living.
It should also be noted that public sector workers bear the brunt of pay restraints more than any other industry, with a study by The Resolution Foundation finding they have become the first employees to suffer a cut in real wages due to high inflation. This means the 5.44 million UK public sector employees will suffer an average pay loss of £1,700 by 2020, compared to 2010.
Despite claims austerity is over, cuts to public services still remain – with county councils feeling the pinch the most. Continued Brexit uncertainty means everyone is being cautious with the cash; as a result, employee benefits have become more useful than ever as a tool to motivate and support employees when cash isn’t a viable option – and we should know!
WHERE WE COME IN
Here at Sodexo Engage, we work with 25% of all councils across the UK, supporting public sector workers with benefits of all kinds.
We’ve also been around for a heck of a long time – over 50 years in fact! We’ve ridden out more than a few economic storms over that half-a-century and gathered a whole heap of experience and knowledge behind the effectiveness of employee benefits in public sectors during uncertain times.
When pay rises for your staff aren't an option, there are many ways to make their experience with you better - without seeing additional wage costs. Here, our experts look at which benefits can be the most effective when it comes engaging employees in the public sector…
MAKING WORK MORE FLEXIBLE
Flexible working is more than just a perk; it’s actually a benefit that can make a huge positive difference to your people’s lives and wallets – especially if they’re commuting long distances or shelling out on travel and parking costs.
Flexitime working for employees is also a great way to help staff work schedules out of the traditional nine to five if working from home is not an option. There are core hours, which are usually between 10am and 4pm for example, but the time before or after is flexible to the employee, allowing a less stressful school run, reduced childcare costs, and so on.
Dr. David G. Javitch, discussed the benefits of flexitime for employers in article for Entrepreneur: “Because employees are often so glad that their employers are willing to allow for a work-life time adjustment, they tend to work harder and in a more dedicated fashion to hold on to their now-perfect schedule and re-balance their lives.”
Flexible working certainly has its benefits, but it does come down to everyone’s circumstances and whether their requests are reasonable – and this where there’s a note of caution.
Whilst it can be great for employee motivation, with lack of supervision it’s difficult to determine if their contribution is as high as when they’re in the office. So, if you do decide to embrace flexible working, monitor its’ effectiveness regularly.
MAKING TRAVEL GREENER & CHEAPER
Apart from buying a house, cars are the biggest financial investments many people ever make – but it’s not just the cost of buying a car that’s expensive; there’s also the running costs, too.
The benefit of offering ultra-low emission vehicles is one way to help employees into cleaner, greener commuting that helps not just the bank balances, but also the environment, too. But the benefits don’t just stop at a nice new shiny car on the driveway as there’s extra tax and NI savings to be had for both you and your employees!
If car schemes are a step too far, cycle-to-work programmes are also a great way to help improve the journey to work for employees. If you have a locally-based workforce, bikes are a fantastic way to make the commute cheaper, greener and healthier for all.
HELPING EMPLOYEES' MONEY GO FURTHER
Everyone loves a good bargain, so benefit programs that provide discounts for employees are always immensely popular.
With public sector pay struggling to keep up with the cost of living, discounts on shopping and leisure activities can be very helpful in helping employees stretch their pay further. Discounts can vary widely; from eVouchers for online retailers, to vouchers for groceries and saving on the weekly shop, entertainment and family days out at leading attractions.
When it comes to discounts, the most effective method depends on which employees are receiving them – 84% of millennials prefer experiential benefits such as cinema tickets or leisure discounts, whereas staff with children will likely favour childcare support or discounts that knock money off the weekly family shop.
But a word of caution: It’s important to consider the needs of your entire workforce and ensure that your benefits programme has something for everyone to enjoy – which brings us neatly onto…
GETTING STAFF INVOLVED
When it comes to employee benefits in the public sector, there are plenty of options to consider – but whatever it is you’re offering to your employees, it’s essential to communicate available benefits clearly to maximise savings for both your organisation and your staff.
Our experts can handle every aspect of your employee benefits programme, from the implementation to the day to day administration – as well as the communication to your employees. Our in-house design team creates email updates, posters and more to help get your staff on board with the benefits you’re offering to ensure as high a take-up as possible.
BENEFITS IN ACTION: SANDWELL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL
As we mentioned earlier, we work with a number of councils across the UK to help improve the quality of life of their staff when times are tight. One of those is Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, who are based in the heart of the Black Country and are responsible for six large towns - Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich.
With such a large area to cover and a wealth of public services to provide, their workforce is huge: with over 4,500 employees from diverse and multi-generational backgrounds.
However, like many councils across the UK, their budgets had been affected by Government cutbacks which meant they needed an effective way to engage their current workforce and attract the best employees all without necessarily resorting to larger pay packets.
There was also one other challenge that’s unique to councils such as Sandwell; and that was needing a programme that could be delivered cost neutrally. This would help generate substantial savings for both the Council and their employees and, help boost the local economy, too.
The brief was a tough one, but thanks to the close collaboration with Sandwell and our experience in building effective benefits packages, the scheme has been an astounding success.
Employee benefit take up stands at 45% and employees have saved over £300,000 in total since launch. Not only that, the Council’s 2018 achievement of the ‘Investors in People’ Silver accreditation is testament to the scheme’s success!
Also, Sandwell Council saved over £200,000 in NI, which has not only funded the scheme but has also been reinvested in several key HR initiatives. What makes the scheme’s success even more remarkable is that the Council doesn’t have a dedicated reward team in place!
This just goes to prove that the solutions and service we provided was not only great for the people employed by Sandwell Council, but was also recognised as a real success by our peers – proving that employee benefits can make a real difference to the quality of lives of, well, everyone!