Employee benefits – what’s Branson doing now?

michael_applebyAs an expectant first time Dad to be, Richard Branson’s latest announcement on a new benefit for his employees at Virgin really caught my eye – 12 months full paid paternity leave! Wow, now that would be good.

Wait though, it gets even better. As well as Branson getting behind this recent legislative change, he is also offering his staff unlimited annual leave!

Sadly, enthusiasm for the latter innovation within Altair was more muted, so we’ll probably be sticking with the current annual leave provision – which isn’t bad, but not in Branson’s league!

It’s an interesting idea though, and one we shouldn’t be entirely surprised is coming from Richard Branson. He’s made a career, and built many very successful businesses, out of challenging the status-quo

The thinking behind the unlimited annual leave provision is that if Virgin look after their employees, they will look after the company. Basic salary will always be the first thing that people look at when considering their next career move. But the announcement from Virgin highlights the trend that employers across sectors are increasingly looking at their secondary benefits as tools for recruiting and retaining their best.

We have recently completed a remuneration review across the housing sector, and our experience suggests that compared to Virgin, many organisations have a long way to go to match the same level of imagination / innovation. Often secondary benefits are relatively traditional, with most offering items such as child care vouchers, season ticket loans, discount voucher schemes etc. But what are some of the more innovative ideas that some are trying outside the housing sector?

Here are some examples:

  • Unlimited annual leave – as mentioned above at Virgin, but also provided by Netflix. The policy is designed to reflect the modern, more flexible workplace. The one caveat in the approach is that the individual has to ensure their own projects are completed / handed over before leave is taken. This places greater emphasis on individual responsibility. Leaders are also encouraged to model the policy appropriately (i.e. take enough but not too much).
  • Providing greater control over own learning and development – all organisations have training budgets, but some are providing control of individual budgets directly to employees and their managers. This is also coinciding with greater flexibility on what the budget can be spent on e.g. not only on activities that will directly benefit individuals in their role, but also wider personal training and development (e.g. learning another language).
  • Freedom to innovate – Google is often cited as one of the most innovative companies in the world. That is probably helped by the fact they allow all of their employees to spend 20% of their working time on purely being innovative and pursue their own work related interests and projects.
  • Time off for supporting other activities – typically linked to volunteering with a local charity and tied into an organisation’s corporate social responsibility policy.
  • Donations to charity – An idea which has taken hold in the banking sector, some are donating a percentage of employee bonuses to a chosen charity, whereas others such as RBS promise to match any money raised by employees for charitable donations.

All of these are characterised by organisations recognising that there is more to motivating employees than just a basic salary. They appeal to different sides of an employee’s personality, whether it is a commitment to local charities or greater freedom to focus on activities which most interest them.

Not all will be appropriate, or even feasible for all housing organisations. But they do link to Richard Branson’s idea that if you look after your staff they will look after you.

What else could you be doing as part of your reward package?

For more information on how we can review your organisations remuneration package please contact Michael Appleby, Head of Organisational Excellence on 07545 314 749 or michael.appleby@altairltd.co.uk.