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Benefits and incentives: Do they still matter?

Ann Pickering, Chief of Staff at O2, talks about the role that incentives and benefits play in O2’s employee engagement strategy.

As Chief of Staff at O2, arguably my greatest responsibility rests in ensuring that our people are happy and motivated and enjoy coming to work every day; then I can be confident that the service provided to our 25 million customers will be brilliant.

Incentives and benefits certainly help, but it’s important to recognise that no one joins or stays with a company because of a great health or pension scheme. But benefits can give you a competitive edge, especially for roles whose skills are in demand and in short supply.

Here at O2 we offer benefits in three key areas:

Financial – e.g. pensions; travel insurance; life insurance.

Health – e.g. health assessments for employees or their partners.

Lifestyle – e.g. childcare vouchers; flexible holidays; bike purchase scheme

Our people value their ability to choose and tailor their own benefits very highly, and the most popular is the ability to buy or sell up to five days’ holiday each year. It allows our employees to adapt their benefits in line with lifestyle changes. If you’re getting married, for example, you might be delighted to purchase a few extra days holiday for the honeymoon. But if you’re a new homeowner you might be glad of the extra cash in reserve in case you need it.

Trust and flexibility

A number of the initiatives that our people perceive to be incentives are in reality an element of O2’s culture. Trust and flexibility are great examples of this, and they play a huge part in our engagement strategy.

We recognise that some people like to work flexibly; some prefer to start early, and finish early, others prefer to start later and finish later. O2 is as along way from the culture of ‘Who can work the longest hours?’ as it is possible to be. The same goes for family commitments, being there for your child’s school nativity play. It feels natural to treat our people like the adults they are and trust them to be responsible for making any time up.

Trust and flexibility also extend to where our people work, and we recognise that there are times when working away from the office can be much more productive. Clearly this is not an option for all our employees, but the underlying theme is one of trust & flexibility.

The Pitfalls

So can there be any drawbacks to offering benefits to your people? One thing to watch out for is the management and communication of information. It’s critical that employees are fully aware of the implications when selecting benefits. For example a company car can look very attractive, but you must communicate any tax implications. A lower than expected payslip, or a demand for tax on a benefit in kind, can leave an employee feeling sour and demotivated.

So what advice would I offer employees, even those with established benefit programmes? It’s important to review the benefits that you offer on a regular basis, and ensure that they are appropriate for your employees; things change over time. In O2, nearly 35% of our people are under the age of 30. That’s very different to where we were 10 years ago.

Can we help? We offer our business customers O2 Open, a simple yet effective way for companies to offer their employees a number of valuable discounts and benefits, including discounted tariffs, as well as O2 Priority tickets, offers and special deals. Find out more at O2 Open.

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