four ways to support public sector staff
The economic uncertainty following Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the value of the pound still fluctuating day by day has everyone cautiously watching their finances for life post-Brexit.
As a result, pay rises aren’t high on the agenda for most businesses, with 48% of business leaders freezing pay last year. Low wages can be damaging to employees health, with Oxfam suggesting low wage workers have increased stress levels, and are more likely to participate in unhealthy behaviours like smoking.
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. Employee benefits have become more useful than ever as a tool to motivate and support employees during this economic uncertainty. At Sodexo, we work with 25% of all councils across the UK, supporting public sector workers with benefits of all kinds – here, our experts discuss why they’re so effective.
Make work more flexible
If pay rises for your staff aren't an option, then there are different ways to make their experience with you better - without seeing additional costs.
For example, Nottingham City Council has an award-winning employee benefits scheme that includes annual leave purchase, allowing staff to buy extra holidays and hours reduction, providing the option of more leisure or family time and helping to redress the work/life balance.
Time away from the office does have real benefits. Research from Nuffield Health and Kuoni found that people who went away on holidays saw their blood pressure drop, sleep quality improve, and their resilience to stress increase by 29%.
Annual leave purchase is great for businesses too if employees opt in, as it means less national insurance to pay at the end of the month due to proportionately reduced salaries. It’s usually very easy to implement without affecting the needs of the business – and can even be cost-neutral, with the money saved often covering the costs of the programme.
Flexitime working for employees is also a great way to help staff work schedules out of the traditional nine to five. There are core hours, which are usually between 10am and 4pm, 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 each individual's circumstances and whether their requests are reasonable. And while 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.
Support family commitments
Workers with children also find it valuable if there's some help from their employer to make life a little bit easier for their family.
HSBC found that on average globally, 60% of parents would be willing to go into debt themselves to pay for their child’s education. To stop this from being on people's minds, childcare vouchers are a popular salary sacrifice arrangement for businesses and employees, where parents contribute some of their pay in exchange for vouchers.
Vouchers are exchanged for pre-tax salary, meaning it's much more cost-effective, and can save parents hundreds of pounds a year as a result.
Childcare vouchers benefit organisations offering the scheme too. A total of 13.8% of the voucher value is saved by employers, making for another employee benefits scheme that results in reduced national insurance contributions. Childcare vouchers are among the most popular employee benefits available, with 41% of staff wanting vouchers through a salary sacrifice arrangement.
Make employees' money go further
Everyone loves a good bargain, so benefit programs that provide discounts for employees are very popular. With public sector pay freezes keeping wages below inflation, discounts on shopping and leisure activities can be very helpful in helping employees stretch their pay further. Discounts can vary from general retail vouchers to vouchers for groceries, as well as popular online retailers, entertainment, and money off on days out for families.
When it comes to discounts and rewards, the most effective method depends on which employees are receiving them – 84% of millennials prefer experiential rewards 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. It’s important to consider the needs of your entire workforce, and ensure that your benefits programme has something for everyone.
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.