Employee benefits – are they really necessary? You may already know the answer, but let’s explore this concept a little more thoroughly.
If there’s a TV spin-off that would boom in Singapore, it would be The Working Dead.
A report last year showed that 68 percent of medium and large-sized companies in Singapore have ‘zombie’ employees. These workers start counting down to the office closing hours the second they clock in and they do as little work as they can get away with. It’s a worldwide phenomenon too. In 2013, Gallup found that about one in eight workers from 142 countries actively contributed to the companies. The antidote to this epidemic?
Benefits that cover workers’ needs and personal development have been found to positively impact firms’ productivity and profitability. So, to prevent the zombies from gnawing at your company’s bottom line, here are some benefits you could offer.
Much like coffee machines in the office, medical employee benefits are seen as a given. Nowadays, more employers are rolling out wellness-oriented benefits that could provide stress relief and mental health support, since stress has been identified as the top risk faced by employees in the Asia-Pacific region.
Some workplaces are even getting creative with their programs. IBM gave out fitness tracker, Fitbit, to 2,000 staff worldwide starting a healthy competition between employees to walk the most steps. Infineon Technologies, a semiconductor manufacturing company, give points to workers participating in fitness activities which then can be redeemed with gifts.
If you have yet to roll out employee benefits focusing on wellness, it’s time to consider. Though just a quarter of companies has shifted gear to more holistic health management, wellness programs have been said to increase employees’ engagement and productivity. Companies like Cisco and (surprise, surprise) Google have even taken wellness to a whole new level by providing in-house therapists and acupuncturists. Healthy workers, happy workers, right?
Netflix, Linkedin, Virgin Group, and General Electric are but a few companies which offer their staff unlimited time off. You read that right. This is not a free-for-all arrangement, of course. Employers still require workers to complete their work in time and ask their supervisors for approval. But unlike the more draconian annual leave policy, the unlimited time off plan is putting more trust in employees and letting them have more say in balancing work and life to avoid burn-out.
Employers’ biggest nightmare is to walk into the office and see a deserted room straight out of an apocalypse movie. That’s unlikely to happen. Most people wouldn’t want to take too much time off fearing that they may be falling behind or because they believe no one can do their jobs. The too-flexible plan ends up making more employees take fewer vacations. So, much like the US presidency, the effectiveness of this policy remains debatable inviting more skeptics than believers.
Flexible working hours
As for attractive employee benefits, a good salary remains the biggest appeal to attract talents, but notice how work-life balance is closing in. A quick and effective fix to get work-life balance is by offering flexible working arrangements. How flexible? Well, workers are required to be in the office during the core operating hours and to clock in enough hours daily. But, they can choose when they want to start and end the day. More forgiving starting time helps companies to cut down on non-productive early hours employees use to make coffees or catch a nap in the bathroom stall (it happens).
A survey by the Ministry of Manpower has suggested that organisations which have implemented flexible working hours have increased productivity by up to 50 percent, seen an improvement in teamwork and employees’ satisfaction, as well as a decrease in turnover rate.
Singapore is renowned for its rigorous education but that doesn’t mean that the people aren’t always looking to level up. Employee benefits such as re-training or tuition support can put such enthusiasm to good use.
If you feel that full tuition support is too costly, you can opt for co-payment, as long as the employee is learning industry-specific skills. More specific knowledge and skills would help workers to qualify for higher positions. As you can see career progression occupies the third place in what Singapore professionals look for.
You may fear that after you’ve paid for the education, you may lose your top talents to bigger firms. But, a study shows that tuition reimbursement program increases employees’ commitment to the company and reduces costs for searching new talent as specialised roles can be filled by re-trained employees.
Bonuses/share in the business
If there is an option for employees to trade their pay rise with a benefit, what would they choose? According to the Hudson report, it’s bonus. Giving a bonus to workers who perform well can boost morale and make employees feel more involved in the success of the company.
To encourage workers to take more ownership of their company’s achievement, some companies offer share in the business for top performers. Such incentive has drawn mixed results. In the US, granting stock option has been seen as a way for self-serving managers to enrich themselves at the expense of other shareholders, but when implemented in Japan, companies saw increased employees’ commitment in addition to alignment of interest between the workers and shareholders.
Other unique employee benefits
International studies of building industry employment highlight the relatively common nature of industry-based pension schemes in the European Community, and the potential benefits which flow from overcoming instability in employment benefits. Industry-based schemes extend to holiday wages and training funds in Germany, and unemployment benefits in Denmark.
These schemes provide income security to workers, encourage skilled workers to remain within the industry through periods of downturns, and overcome skills shortages through sharing training costs across firms.
The seniority wage
It could be both a prize and penalty. Seniority wage, a popular benefit in Japan, increases workers’ wages based on how long they have been working in the company instead of their skills. Despite employees’ declining productivity due to age, companies will continue increasing their salary for their loyalty. The catch is if an employee decides to move to another firm, they have to start with the basic salary again, so most workers avoid changing jobs.
As much as Johnson & Johnson and Google value work-life balance, there are times when they need their staff to work overtime. So, these companies provide concierge service for their employees. From picking up kids from schools to buying gifts for loved ones, the firms ensure that workers’ lives will not be in shambles even when they need to burn the midnight oil.
Weight loss program
Office products manufacturer, 3M, does not skimp when it comes to its employees’ wellness. On top of dental and medical benefits, the company also offers more tailored wellness packages, such as weight loss and smoking cessation programs.
US-based bank, Umpqua, knows how stressful it can be when employees need to look sharp for a meeting or presentation but have limited shopping budget. The bank will loan up to $ 1,000 a year to staff to buy their work wear. The loan is repayable through salary deduction.
On-site childcare centre
Recognising that parenthood is a full-time job, more workplaces in Singapore are converting parts of their building to childcare centre. About a third of childcare centres in the country are now located at office buildings. Managers of companies which have implemented such initiative have seen increased productivity and reduced absenteeism among parents. To draw more companies on board of this program, government will provide grants for employers that cover up to half of the cost of building the childcare centre.
Bring your pet to work
Some employers have found a “paw-erful” way to boost their staff’s mood. They open their doors to cats and dogs which will be hard at work providing joy and stress relief to everyone in the office. A survey has shown that having pets at workplace can increase workers’ happiness and improve teamwork. Employees also tend to work in the office for longer hours.
If you think that free flow of alcoholic drinks at your company’s party is a treat, wait until you visit Silicon Valley. Many tech firms stock their fridges with beers and wines for employees to enjoy during office hours. Drinking helps staff to bond and it is the preferred method to break the ice. Most companies don’t have stringent rules on how much staff can drink because the point of having such perk is to treat employees as responsible adults. As long as they don’t hurt the company’s bottom line, bottoms up!
Many workplaces discourage romance in the office, but not Alibaba. At its Chinese office, the online commerce giant has been putting up dating board filled with blue and pink hearts. The blue hearts contain phone numbers and photos of single male employees while the pink hearts have information on single female employees. The initiative is so popular that every year, CEO Jack Ma would marry the office lovebirds in a huge outdoor ceremony.