You want to offer staff that something special as a thank-you for a hard year’s work, but something not too predictable. Peter Crush offers some suggestions

christmas

When the Cardiff-based insurance specialist Admiral decided to be the official shirt sponsor to the Welsh Rugby Union in 2010 (something it is no doubt very pleased with after the team’s good showing in the Rugby World Cup), there was one clear – if unusual – stipulation built into the contract. The deal was less about marketing and much more about what the WRU tie-up could do for staff.

“We even asked staff if this was even something they wanted the company to get involved in,” says Admiral’s external director, James Carnduff. “When they said yes, we specifically set up a package whereby the sponsorship would give staff ‘money can’t buy’ perks that would have a long-lasting impact throughout the year.”

These perks include 40% discounts on rugby shirts (the first 1,000 of which were signed by the team), organising Six Nations matches for staff celebrating 15- and 20-year anniversaries and arranging tours around the stadiums. Staff were allowed to interview the players for the firm’s internal Admiral TV channel, they could hand over the game ball at internationals, visit the players on training camps and get a personal stadium tour by (now former) Welsh captain Sam Warburton.

“It’s a very different sponsorship,” says Carnduff. “It’s not necessarily about targeting customers: it’s about staff motivation. It’s about giving as many benefits as we can to our staff through the rugby.”

A key feature of the package is the sheer number of opportunities that employees have to interact with the team throughout the year – on average there’s about one a month. With line managers also given a clutch of match tickets they can hand out whenever they want, you could say staff have all their Christmases come at once. And better still, these perks don’t just come once a year – for Admiral staff, it’s like Christmas coming every few weeks.

YEAR-LONG VALUE

So, should more companies start to take the same approach, and opt for benefits with greater longevity throughout the year, rather than ones that give a single hit of end of-year cheer but which, like Christmas itself, are all too soon forgotten just a few days later? As the season of goodwill looms, should employers resist the temptation for a big, end-of-year perk, or opt for something spread more consistently across 2016?

“Christmas-specific rewards are great for giving staff that all-important ‘thank-you’ feeling, but all-year-round benefits can be even more effective, as a result of being constantly front of mind rather than something that is awarded once in 365 days,” suggests Declan Byrne, managing director of One4all Rewards.

For those who think benefits spread throughout the year simply mean more expense, Byrne says it isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes it’s more about using the event of Christmas or the New Year to solidify or re-invigorate the demand for existing fringe benefits.

“The first few months of the year are a key holiday booking period, so it’s a great time to offer employees the opportunity to accrue additional leave as a reward for a certain level of effort or results,” says Byrne. “In January, staff often dwell on just how expensive the Christmas period was, so it’s also an ideal time to announce a new benefit that helps take away monthly costs, such as subsidised gym membership, or better pension contributions.”

Benefits with a longer shelf life can simply be those that tap into the joys of the Christmas period, but which are more regular. For example, electronics giant Samsung this year introduced a wine club to its flexible benefits portal, which staff can pay for via a salary sacrifice arrangement. The benefit offers staff a monthly or quarterly delivery of their choice of wine.

At digital marketing agency iCrossing, staff start each year with a £100 budget to spend on anything they like – from theatre outings and football clubs to beer fests – and to keep this cheer going all year through, it supports it with a ‘Beer O’Clock’ early finish on the last Friday of every month.

Perhaps the best indication of the success of year-long perks can be seen by the fact that benefits providers are themselves drifting into this area, too. One of the newest entrants to the market is PerkBox – an online perks redemption portal, whose parent company is Huddlebuy.

Launched over the summer, it gives SME owners the opportunity to offer their staff a tiered (bronze to gold) package of perks they can access all the year round. These are made available via the bulk buying of benefits.

“The key to our offering is twofold: first, these aren’t benefits employers or employees could access elsewhere,” says founder Saurav Chopra. “Secondly, many can be redeemed all-year long.”

Benefits include free mobile phone insurance (one per employee); a free Taste Card (which offers staff up to 50% off meals out); one free film rental per month and numerous other discounts.

Chopra says: “We’ll buy 100,000 cinema tickets all at once, or other en masse purchases, which enables us to provide perks to employers at a very low monthly fee. “The point is, staff can access them all year, time after time, at no cost to themselves, and no extra cost to employers.”

The fact staff prefer this year-long model can be seen in the companies’ initial statistics. These show 70% of users come back to the portal for a new fringe benefit every month.

Chopra says: “We even send out physical ‘perk boxes’ – filled with Frisbees, balls, beach balls, etc, just to get staff excited about using the portal.”

PERFORMANCE-RELATED INCENTIVES

Other methods for extending the Christmas feel-good factor clearly include online incentive schemes linked to performance. Olivia Turner, head of reward services at Corporate Rewards, says: “Incentive schemes help to maintain a constant level of staff motivation throughout the year, rather than concentrating it all at one time.”

She adds: “The ultimate solution would be to allow staff to choose how they want to be rewarded. Some employees prefer to wait for a single, larger reward at Christmas as tradition dictates, while others might prefer the ‘little and often’ approach. What’s key is having the flexibility to offer both. This is certainly the best way to keep your wider workforce in good spirits and feeling valued.”

Christmas bonuses can also be altered, so that they’re re-issued throughout the year, or as and when employees become eligible, for example when they meet monthly or quarterly targets. Tools that allow this come from likes of the One4all Gift Card from One4all Rewards.

The point is, good staff may not be for life, but they most certainly are for more than just Christmas. And good employers shouldn’t forget that treats can be just the ticket to year-long engagement.

As Carnduff says: “Our year-long benefits programme blow any single event, or one-off end-of-year perk out of the water.”