Benefits - What Really Counts

July 24, 2023

Becoming an attractive employer with the right additional benefits

Austria and many other European countries have become markets for employees with more vacancies than candidates, a fact that obviously increases the pressure on companies to present themselves as the most attractive employer possible. It is therefore not surprising that many companies are not only revising their employer branding, recruiting and onboarding strategies, but are also focusing on the attractiveness and marketability of their compensation and benefits systems.

Employee Benefits Icons

However, before you start to offer additional benefits in the hope of attracting great candidates, you should ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • What benefits are there?

  • Which benefits are coherent and in line with the company's purpose and values?

  • What effect does the company want to achieve with the additional benefits?

  • What exactly do the employees and candidates want? What is the expected cost-benefit ratio?

What Benefits are There?

There are monetary benefits (public transport tickets, company pension schemes, employee share plans, service anniversary bonus, etc.) and non-monetary ones such as flexibility in terms of time and place, time for further training, benefits directly related to the job (smartphone, laptop, canteen, company outing) and others that employees can use privately, such as a subsidy for private kindergarten, private health check, contribution to the fitness center, interest-free loans, etc. Most of the benefits are in many countries tax-privileged and are therefore very attractive for employees, as they ultimately increase their disposable income.

The Austrian job portal has evaluated the vacancy ads in the first half of 2021 according to additional benefits and listed the most frequently mentioned benefits: Flexible working hours and training and development are named by around 10% of all companies in the top 5 sectors of trade, industry, IT, construction and finance. Good transport connections are also among the most frequently offered benefits. The list of possible additional benefits is very long, but it is important to ask yourself the following question:

Which Benefits are Coherent and in Line with the Company's Purpose, Vision and Values?

Benefits are part of the compensation policy, which must convey the why (the purpose) of the organization just as much as all other company structures and processes. If a company like IKEA, for example, makes it its mission to "create a better everyday life for the many people" and wants to express this raison d'être in its values: 'togetherness, caring for people and planet, cost-consciousness, simplicity.... ', then it would be more than surprising if such an organization differentiates its additional benefits strongly according to hierarchy and makes a secret of who is entitled to which benefits. Or: If you want to make the world more sustainable, you should think carefully about which company car category the sales team and the management drive.

If a company's why and its values are clear, then it is important, or at least favorable, to consider what impact one wants to achieve with the additional benefits.

Wooden sign saying Values, Mission, Vision
The benfits should be in line with the company's values, otherwise neither the purpose nor the benefits will be taken seriously. Photo: shutterstock - PX Media

What Effect can the Company Achieve with its Benefits?

In general, employers hope that benefits will make them more attractive and increase employee loyalty to the company. Benefits should express appreciation for the workforce and maintain their commitment. In contrast to incentive systems such as bonuses, premiums and incentives, the granting of additional benefits is not linked to specific targets or the achievement of targets: Benefits are rarely dependent on the performance of an individual employee or a team, but apply to all eligible persons in the company irrespective of performance.

The question of impact begins with the choice of beneficiaries: does everyone in the company receive each of the benefits offered, or is the package of additional benefits differentiated according to target groups in the company? For many years, for example, the size, furnishings, and floor of the office were coveted status symbols and were granted according to hierarchy. Like bonuses, companies hoped that these benefits would trigger the motivation to perform better. Today, employers who want to focus more on team performance than on competition are less likely to differentiate the granting of benefits. If you position yourself as an employer who sees family life as part of everyday working life, you are more likely to think about job sharing, parental leave, kindergarten subsidies, etc. Organisations in transition - and who is not? - consider which training and development offers could be attractive for their teams to whet their appetite for acquiring competencies relevant to the future.

One thing should be clear: even if you design the perfect benefits package, which is wonderfully in line with purpose, vision, and values, the desired effect will be nullified if the implemented corporate culture does not match the underlying company philosophy - or the benefits do not correspond to what the employees want.

What Exactly do the Employees and Candidates Want? What is the Expected Cost-Benefit Ratio?

In the study cited above, lists the 5 most frequent reasons for changing jobs: although 48% want a higher salary, 24% already want more recognition, 23% a better work-life balance, 21% more interesting tasks and 20% a job close to home - all indications of the relevance of benefits such as flexible working hours, home office and further training opportunities.

Is this general finding enough? What's to stop a company from asking its employees which of the company's possible benefits the workforce wants and how important the respective additional benefits are to them? A serious discussion about benefits is so important because it helps to make the respective corporate compensation culture visible. If you compare these findings with the costs of the benefits surveyed, you will be surprised how different the needs of employees are and what really counts for them. And you quickly come to the conclusion that a cafeteria system, where employees can choose the benefits that suit them best from the entire range of company offers, is more motivating than granting everyone the same benefit - and certainly not more expensive. The opportunity to make a personal choice from the company's offering sends a signal to the workforce about how much individual satisfaction matters to the company.

One thing is clear, no one works for a company just because of the benefits it offers - but granting them tacitly and hoping the offer suits the employees doesn't justify the costs either. Here, too, it is important to talk about them, create transparency and, if necessary, adapt benefits to the wishes of the candidates, because - as with birthday presents - additional benefits that you have wished for are of much greater value than those that you did not want at all.

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