HR · 12 April 2018

What are voluntary benefits?


We outline everything you need to know about voluntary benefits, from when to offer them to how to measure their impact.

What are voluntary benefits?

Voluntary benefits have picked up its pace over the past two decades as a cost-effective way to reward and incentivise employees.  These schemes are particularly successful because perks are personalised and flexible, appealing to the many needs of a diverse team.

Voluntary benefits are offered by employers but are paid completely or mostly by employees through payroll deferral.

Traditional voluntary benefits include life insurance, vision, dental, disability, cancer and critical illness insurance, and accident insurance.

Why do voluntary benefits matter?

Providing a Voluntary Benefits scheme, where staff can take advantage of thousands of different offers and discounts to save on their everyday purchases is something that is a low cost for an organisation to provide yet delivers high value to its employees, Andy Caldicott, MD of motivation solutions provider, PeopleValue.

It is a well-proven fact that engaged employees will be more loyal, perform better and generally go that extra mile when you need them to.

When adopting voluntary benefits schemes, employers need to make sure that employees understand the reasons for and advantages of these benefits.

“The old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, may resonate with some when it comes to voluntary benefits and in particular, discount schemes,” says Caldicott. “However, I would take issue with that. As with almost everything in life, it’s all about how you communicate it.”

What can guarantee a successful voluntary benefits scheme?

“The key to getting the most out of your voluntary benefits scheme is making sure that your communications about the programme are well targeted,” he adds.

Think about the make up of your team and ensure you let them know that you are providing something of value to them.

Make sure that any specific retailers you highlight are relevant and of broad appeal otherwise you risk disengaging employees if they think ‘this isn’t for me’.

For Caldicott, it all boils down to communication: “Tell ‘em it’s coming, tell ‘em it’s here, and then tell ‘em again.”

How you communicate the benefits also has a huge impact on take-up. Where do your staff go to get information? Not everyone is online, but certainly a huge faction will be on social media via their mobiles. Some employees may still prefer the company intranet, email, leaflets or posters in the kitchen, which is why a multi-channel approach is typically what’s required.

As well as ensuring that you make information easily accessible to all staff, you need to plan your communications.

“There are numerous studies that say you need a certain number of touchpoints (anything from 6 to 13) before people take action, so just telling staff about the discount scheme when they join the organisation or hiding it in the staff handbook certainly won’t be enough to get them to engage,” Caldicott explains.

How do you start?

When launching a voluntary benefits scheme you need to plan your comms campaign as you would any other marketing campaign.

You need to start before the launch, asking staff what benefits or discounts they would like, try and get them to contribute. Then you need to tell them it’s coming – make a big thing of it, maybe even hold a launch event.

“Depending on the demographic of your workforce you may need to consider training, for example, to ensure that they know where and how to access the service, or where to go on the staff intranet or employee hub,” says Caldicott.

Where possible, seek out ‘scheme champions’; individuals within your organisation who are willing to help promote the scheme to their peers.

“Nothing sells something quite like a recommendation from one of your colleagues or workmates,” he adds.

Then once launched, don’t just treat it as a box that has been ticked. You need to continually promote the benefit to ensure that staff stay engaged and that new staff are embraced. Each time there is something new, let people know, gather examples of just how much can be saved to whet their appetite.

What are some of the voluntary benefits providers out there?

Firms like Reward Gateway, Staff Treats and Perkbox have been staples for SMEs looking to provide cost-effective voluntary benefits. The benefits include discounts and freebies for staff, along with season tickets and other perks that keep them engaged. Caldicott’s firm, PeopleValue Advantage, focuses on engagement tools that are built into the voluntary benefits platform.


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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.