From in-house bars to sabbaticals: What incentives are employers offering to attract talent?
PUBLISHED: 06:15 10 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:47 10 January 2018
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
With the search for the region’s best companies to work for under way, Bethany Whymark looks at what benefits and perks today’s candidates are being offered.
A few decades ago, those entering the job market looked for little more than career progression and a pension plan in their would-be employers.
As we enter the next year of the new millennium, the employment benefits game has changed almost beyond recognition.
With benefits and perks ranging from slides and sleeping pods at the HQs of tech firms like Google and Facebook, to “puppy parental leave” at Brewdog and unlimited holiday at Netflix, things like a solid pension scheme, basic health insurance or even the relatively recent perk of flexible working arrangements no longer cut the mustard for many jobseekers.
East Anglian employers are beginning to take up this cultural shift and run with it, including fast-growing tech firm Epos Now, which kitted out a new building at its Norwich headquarters with a communal kitchen, games consoles, and a tiki bar.
The trend has been influenced by the growing emphasis on a work-life balance espoused by employees, businesses and commentators, and new expectations from the millennial force.
But what are employers doing to make their offer more attractive?
Lynn Walters, executive director of regional recruitment company Pure, says creating a desirable work environment – with encouragement to socialise as well as work productively – requires “a shift in mind-set” from more traditional working practices.
Pure offers perks to staff in its four offices including a gift and an extra half day’s holiday for birthdays and overnight accommodation for staff and their partners after the office Christmas party.
Ms Walters said: “There is no doubt that organisations are being more creative about the work environment they are offering their staff. This is partly due to the competitive recruitment landscape where top talent is a precious resource and organisations need to stand out to attract the best people as well as finding different ways to retain their staff.
“However, much of the shift in workplace culture is about creating healthier environments that support people’s lifestyle and wellbeing. “Many organisations are taking significant steps to encourage their staff to be healthy – both physically and mentally – and are reaping the benefits.”
The in-house pub
Accountancy firm Farnell Clarke has combined work and play with a new feature in its Norwich office – The Tax and Pounds pub.
The bar opens at 4pm on a Friday for staff, but can be used during the week for client meetings and events.
It was opened as part of a refurbishment designed to appeal to new clients and employees – and so far is having the desired effect.
Managing director James Kay said the facility has had a positive effect on staff retention.
“We have done a lot of marketing around it and promotion on social media and have since seen a massive increase in the number of applications we are getting, even speculative ones. Competition for staff in our field is very high so it is great to be different,” he said.
Company founder Will Farnell has estimated that by 2025 some three quarters of the workforce in accountancy will be millennials, who will bring with them “different expectations”.
The home-working philosophy
Plain Speaking PR has taken the perk of flexible home-working to a new level – by dispensing with its office.
Managing director Pippa Lain-Smith, who founded the business in 2006, restructured it two years ago so her team now all work remotely, with technologies including cloud storage and hosted phones making the change possible. She believes the flexibility has contributed to the firm’s sustainability.
“The office has become more of an expensive status symbol than a real asset to the business or our clients,” she said. “Not having to travel to Norwich purely to do a job that you could do from a desk at home is definitely a benefit to our team.
“Offering hours that, where possible, dovetail with personal commitments seems a very logical approach.”
She said the team catch up by phone or Skype through the day and meet face-to-face most weeks – and she thinks not wasting time on “unnecessary meetings” has made them more productive.
A change in attitude
“Years ago, if you had told me put a pool table into an office, I would have said: ‘It’s a workplace,’ and that would have been my attitude,” admits the boss of Sanctuary Personnel.
But a small experiment with one pool table convinced James Rook, managing director at the growing Ipswich firm, otherwise. He noticed staff from different departments started to communicate on a more meaningful level, an important factor in a business which went from small beginnings a few years ago to today employing around 250 people, and counting. Last year it won the Business of the Year title at the East Anglian Daily Times Business Awards.
The firm, which supports the social work, healthcare and criminal justice sectors, has break-out areas with a wide variety of games, and Mr Rook puts a lot of store in presenting staff with personalised gifts. People love recognition, and are more willing to go the extra mile for those who show them it, he says.
An investment in engagement
Epos Now last year invested £2.25m in a third building at its headquarters on Whiting Road in Norwich, complete with a large communal kitchen, table tennis and games consoles for employees, and outside decking with a tiki bar.
Jacyn Heavens, founder and chief executive of the Future50 firm, says the youthfulness of the company’s workforce – which has an average age of just 24 – required it to reinvent its offering to “cater to their needs”.
“Employee engagement is very important to Epos Now’s culture as it has proven key to fuelling business growth,” he said.
“Having recently renovated our third premises at our Norwich HQ we had an opportunity to create a collaborative space for our employees to enjoy work and play, which has proved very popular during our monthly celebrations.”
He added: “Fostering a dynamic workplace culture and providing professional development opportunities are essential to nurturing our leaders of the future.”
An extended leave opportunity
Business advisory and accountancy firm Larking Gowen offers its staff the chance to take sabbaticals.
Martin Hales, a senior manager at the firm’s Norwich office, took 14 months off work in 2016 and 2017 using this benefit to focus on “personal goals” and says the HR team and his managing partner were “incredibly supportive”.
“It’s understandable that companies are hesitant to implement a sabbatical program but I am fortunate to work for an owner-managed business with a flexible and innovative approach,” he said. “As part of the process, and with thorough planning, my time away gave a chance for colleagues to take on new tasks and expand skills sets which was good for their own development.
“The knowledge the firm wanted me back was of huge value which added to the positive experience.”
He added: “Attracting and retaining talent is hugely important and career breaks can provide great benefits for both employer and employees.”
Best Employers Eastern Region is an initiative striving to find the best companies to work for in East Anglia.
It aims to help create better places to work for the benefit of employers and employees, through understanding and discussing workplace culture. Its ultimate ambition is to enhance the reputation of the eastern region as a place for ambitious people to build successful careers.
It is a partnership between recruitment company Pure, Archant, the publisher of the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times, psychometric testing experts Eras and regional law firm Birketts.
Companies take part in the free programme by asking staff to complete a confidential survey, and then receive a full report explaining how they can improve. They are then supported through the process at a series of events.