Although benefits are a crucial part of most remuneration packages, when they are recruiting most employers barely mention what is on offer to candidates. Peter Crush reports on a surprising oversight

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When it comes to communicating staff benefits, it’s a truism that employers can’t remind their staff often enough about what they provide. With Leeds University Business School revealing that tea/coffee facilities at work come to around £276 per person per year, it’s no surprise that totting up the value of everything offered quite a task.

Cue the growth of total reward statements and regular email campaigns. By focusing on forgotten perks both tools have become an established component of benefits communication.

That’s all well and good when you’re talking to existing staff, or when you’ve time and space to link reward to notions of culture and HR intent.

But what about benefits communication for recruitment purposes?

Back in 2006, Towers Watson’s analysis of 1,000 job ads revealed only 16% made any reference to pensions, and only 4% mentioned flexible working. In the same year Axa found 67% of staff wanted the full benefits package to be compulsorily included in job ads.

Little has changed. Last year Glassdoor found less than a third of applicants knew the maternity benefits on other on either job ads or corporate websites (and they were too afraid to ask at the interview stage).

This, say experts, is an oversight, especially as benefits can make up to 40% of a total remuneration package. “Benefits in recruitment communication is still invisible,” moans Nick Throp, director of reward consultancy, Like Minds. “I think employers worry it gives away their pay and conditions to rivals, but this is misplaced because it can easily be found out, so there’s no reason not to make a virtue of it.”

He argues clever employers can use them as a point of difference. “At the recruitment level it helps create a brand halo,” he says. “You don’t need to list them all out. Just picking one, such as explaining your wellbeing strategy, for instance, can say a lot about you as an organisation.”

According to Simon Conington, the managing director of recruitment firm BPS, perks help build the employer brand. Unfortunately, many organisations still ignore the power of this. “I visit lots of business heads who tell me how great they are and what they offer, but a lot of it is all ‘me-too’,” he observes.

“When asked how they are different, many can’t answer it. As marketers might say, top talent is ‘attracted to’ not ‘sold to’, and ads needs to be clever about the image they create.”

There’s proof that taking a brand-led approach may work. The University of Saskatchewan in Canada recently tested two versions of the same job ads: the first were deliberately written with a bias towards what the organisation could do for job-hunters; the second were more about what it demanded of the candidates.

Not only did the former attract more jobseekers, but they were a better quality, with 1.37 applicants per position receiving the highest rating from hiring managers. Only 0.48 applicants per position got top marks among employer-centred ads.

Julian Foster, the managing director of Computershare, says: “Applicants are becoming far savvier about what they’re entitled to. They’re also increasingly interested in the broad offer that an employer makes rather than just judging a position by salary. So, changing the emphasis within job ads can lead to higher quality and better-suited applicants for relevant roles.”

He adds: “Remember, part-time workers are more likely to be drawn to flexible working, quality childcare or employee assistance programmes; while a focus on medical care, or share plans might bring in older workers.”

From now till 2022 it is predicted there will be an extra 3.7 million people in work between the ages of 50 and beyond the state pension age. This means job ads will increasingly have to focus on showcasing benefits, or company culture in a way that does not discourage older workers.

In June Age UK and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation issued best practice guidance to employers/recruiters. This includes avoiding potentially discriminatory language in ads (by using words such as ‘energetic’ or ‘vibrant’) – that can be interpreted as code for ‘younger workers only’.

On a more general note, Stuart Hyland, reward solutions consultant of Hay Group, says: “While the lack of benefits on actual recruitment ads is normal, what’s more concerning is lack of benefits being mentioned at the second level – the corporate website. Firms are really missing a chance to show what they offer.”

He says fears that showing what benefits are included would attract more mercenary applicants is unfounded. “Milk-round recruitment has been doing this for years: it’s time the benefits proposition is explained. It’s a chance to talk about your company in a powerful way.”