Procurement · 18 October 2017

Hangover days and festivals: The unusual workplace perks proving a hit with staff

The "bucking bronco" contest in full swing at Roctostock 2017
The “bucking bronco” contest in full swing at Roctostock 2017

Would you allow your employees a day off for a hangover? You might see an unexpected benefit. From booze to bands, Business Advice finds out the unusual workplace perks on offer at three small UK companies that have proved a success among staff.

Employee retention and better productivity are often touted as the key benefits of inclusive workplace perks, which could also help drive a successful recruitment strategy. However, research has suggested most micro business owners don’t actively promote any additional benefits to staff, mainly due to time and budget restrictions.

So, what are employees looking for? According to CV-Library, the most typically desired benefits are flexible working and seasonal bonuses, while most workers are open to greater provision of exercise through subsidised gym memberships.

On the other hand, you could do things a bit differently and reap the benefits of an active and challenged workforce. Business Advice looked at the unusual workplace perks on offer at three UK companies, speaking to those behind the ideas.

Summer festival

For the last eight years, staff at PR and marketing agency Octopus Group have been treated to the annual “Roctostock” festival. The company’s 65 employees are taken out of the city to a countryside field for a weekend of team-building activities, live music and downtime. We asked CEO Jon Lonsdale what inspired the tradition.

“We’d reached the point with 30 or so employees that staying overnight in hotels was becoming a challenge to arrange, and for a small business was also quite costly – but we loved getting away from the stresses and strains of the office for 24 hours.”

The Octopus Group team
The Octopus Group team enjoying another Roctostock

Lonsdale explained that it was important to take the team out of its comfort zone, and with no natural campers, a festival seemed the logical choice. Initially, the idea of pitching up tents in a field didn’t draw much enthusiasm from the team.

“Then came the live music idea,” he added. “Everyone was nervous at first, but we had the best time, and the rest is history. It will always be in our calendar from now on.”

According the Jodie Blair, the HR assistant turned festival organiser, ensuring the event stays fresh and different each year is the biggest challenge. The reactions of her colleagues, however, make the effort worthwhile.

“It’s a great way to enhance our value of making Octopus Group a home away from home. We pride ourselves in making sure we all know each other on a personal level, and having two days away together out of the office really helps,” she explained.

It’s become the most anticipated event in the company calendar, and Blair noted the “buzz” around the office in the lead up to and following the festival.

“It brings people together. There is always a story to tell afterwards.”

“Boozed or burnt” days

Statistically, one in five of your employees feigned illness to get out of work in the last year, rising to two-thirds if office gossip is to believed. But what if pulling a sickie was part of your benefits package? 

At media company The Specialist Works, employees can take two “BOB” (boozed or burnt) days out of each year’s holiday entitlement, dependent on deadlines and how much their absence will impact the team. “No questions asked,” according to CEO Martin Woolley.

Allowing leave at short-notice could bring down overall absences within a business

“These two days can be used for anything,” Woolley explained. “If you just can’t get out of bed on Monday, or the sun’s out and you want to spend a day with the kids, or you’ve spent the last couple of days pulling together a pitch and need a rest, or those drinks on a Thursday night went a bit late and the thought of work on Friday is worse than the hangover – these are all legitimate reasons for staff to use BOB days.”

An existing sense of shared responsibility has enabled the ambitious idea to work practically, and Woolley noted that the strong team ethic has prevented individuals leaving colleagues stranded.

Read more: Five free perks for small teams that will engage millennial employees

“Everyone knows what it feels like that dread of going into work when you just can’t face it,” he added. “It means you can be sympathetic and cover your mate for the day, knowing they will do the same for you when you need it.”

In fact, placing greater trust in staff has brought the overall number of absences down at the company. Acknowledging the positive impact of the scheme, Woolley said it contributed to an “honest relationship” between staff and managers.

For other small business owners considering a similar initiative, he said trust in employees was paramount. “They will always make the right decision, and the company will always benefit as much as the staff do.”

Table tennis coaching

As well as encouraging team spirit and a competitive edge within a business, the health benefits of workplace sport can be equally constructive.

“It’s no secret that working within an office environment can take a toll on us physically and emotionally,” Edd Wilson, SEO manager at digital marketing agency Impression, told us. “It’s important to take breaks from your work and to concentrate on something that is still able to healthily stimulate the mind.”

In light of these benefits, the company wanted to introduce a social leisure activity that reflected its collaborative culture.

The office was already housing a table tennis table, so a competitive league was set up. However, the high average ability level had begun to alienate the less experienced players. To counter this, Wilson introduced a coaching scheme that matched beginners up with mentors.

Table tennis coaching encouraged a collaborative culture within the Impression office
Table tennis coaching encouraged a collaborative culture within the Impression office

“The opportunity to learn from each other supports a more inclusive culture which encourages everyone to take breaks from their desks. The coaches are also learning vital skills in mentoring that often translate into business management,” Wilson explained.

As with Roctostock, the league has allowed members of different teams to become more familiar with colleagues they don’t usually work with. Wilson also pointed out that friendly rivalries complimented the demands of a competitive industry and fostered a creative edge.

“Table tennis benefits our workplace productivity,” he added. “Having a different and dynamic activity breaks up the working day in a healthy manner, leaving team members going back to their desks with a fresh perspective. Teams are also using table tennis game to discuss a project, as a brain storming session or to share new creative ideas.” 

To aid your recruitment strategy, take a look at the ten workplace benefits your future employees will demand

Have you successfully introduced unusual workplace perks for employees? Email your creative approach to us at editors@businessadvice.co.uk

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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