Flex should be the final sacrifice

Employers may see flex as a luxury spend right now. But the reasons for implementation are as valid today as ever, finds Jenny Keefe

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“To keep employees engaged during difficult times, employers need to be creative and flexible in their approaches to motivation and reward,” says Stephen Bevan, managing director of think tank the Work Foundation. He cites Incomes Data Services’s last pay survey, which shows the average pay rise was 1.9% in the three month period to the end of March 2010. This is well below the Consumer Price Index’s cost of living index, which hit 3.4 per cent during March.

He says: “Employers with pay freezes are facing tough questions from employees, including ’why should I continue to work this hard for no prospect of a pay rise?’ While pay is a blunt instrument when it comes to motivation, carefully calibrated flexible benefits schemes can send a powerful message to employees that they are still valued.”

Bevan believes training and development is one of the most valued perks offered through flex. “This can play a big part in helping employees to feel that they are being valued and that their skills and employability are increasing,” he says.

“Access to skill development as a flexible benefit can also help employers grow performance and productivity at a time when there is less cash in the bonus kitty.”

“Flexible benefits have played a small but important part in many organisations’ reward armoury in recent years, but now might be the time to re-assess their role. While some elements of flex packages may have come under cost scrutiny during the recession, it is important to stand by the elements of the scheme that employees value most.”

He argues that salary sacrifice schemes are a valuable way to boost workers’ packages, and points out younger staff may want the flexibility to
sell holiday for extra cash, while older employees may prefer the time off. “The key here is that the individual retains control over their benefits, how and when they take them and the value of them. This approach can also reinforce the message that the employer is responding to the individual’s needs and wants to create employment relation based on mutual benefits,” says Bevan.