How Staff Perks Impact Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

This episode will perk you up! Shaun Bradley is the Director of People & Organisational Development at Perkbox, a company that provides perks to no less than 600,000 employees across the U.K.

Who are you and what you do?

I’m Shaun Bradley, and I am the Director of People and Organization Development at Perkbox. We create employee engagement and customer engagement platforms. My job includes all of HR, engagement, recruitment, L&D, and leadership development. Perkbox provides perks for about 600,000 employees across the U.K.

Why are staff perks important?

If you think about the way we work today, it’s actually getting more and more difficult to recruit great employees. Even once you’ve recruited them, you have to be able to keep them, and people these days tend to change their job more frequently. Getting new people is always a challenge. What we try to do with perks is help small businesses in particular, who don’t have the resources or time to create a way of engaging their employees, and hopefully retaining them because they’re making a small difference to the things that employees enjoy.

What about the hygiene factor versus purpose?

I think hygiene factors are things like job security, safety at work, a decent salary, stability of my job. It’s almost like the launch pad. And things like the purpose and fulfilment, the belonging to a great company, and the team element are the rocket. The rocket can’t really take off unless the launch pad is stable and people feel that they can meet their needs around bills and being able to feel that they’re valued at work. The autonomy, mastery, and purpose will become more important when the hygiene factors have been fulfilled or satisfied. That’s a Dan Pink idea, he’s one of my two go-to authors when I talk about engagement.

The perks can help in the way that we all want our cash to go further, and every little bit helps. But perks don’t necessarily work on their own. I think that those other things around the stability, and overall feeling that you’re secure in your job go along with the perks to make it a more enriching environment for people.

What is the most popular perk for an employee in the U.K.?

Generally, it’s cinema tickets. People obviously want to get away from work and go to the cinema. The deals that we have are pretty universal. They’re not just London-based, they’re based around the whole of the U.K. The second-most popular is the monthly Caffè Nero – everybody needs their caffeine hit, and everybody can have a free coffee on us every month. So those are the two most important.

How do you go about engaging your staff at Perkbox?

They have access to the same platform that we sell to customers. We actually are going through a bit of a transition, and we’ve just gone from about 60 employees to 160 over the course of a year. That has been quite challenging in that it’s easier to manage a team of 60 compared to 160.

What we really have been focusing on are two things. One is to ensure that everybody understands what our purpose is as a company, which is the purpose/fulfilment part of the engagement. But also we do a lot of stuff around perks, but not just on the platform. We have things like a party a couple times a year. We have a beer trolley on a Friday, which is pushed around the building by new people who joined the company. We have quality. It’s great because it enables them to get to know everybody. As the company gets bigger, you start forgetting people’s names, but we want everybody to still feel part of the bigger organization.

Everything we do is to enable people to bring their best self to work in the culture of high performance. We make sure that we have quarterly awards where we recognize exceptional performance, but those are all related to the values of Perkbox. So we have a value which is called “Above and Beyond.” That award will be a performance award that’s linked to going above and beyond at work. One thing that we’ve just done, which is really important, is that everybody at Perkbox has share options within the company so we’re trying to balance that hygiene factor of giving people a promise of money, but also balancing out with the purpose, which is if I have a stake in the company, I’m more likely to feel engaged with that company.

We’re trying to solve a big problem, which is – 2/3 of people in the U.K. in particular are not that happy at work. Gallup research say that around 35% to 37% of people actively at work feel incredibly engaged. A third feel that they come to work and are present, but don’t necessarily go the extra mile. And then the other third probably shouldn’t be there, if I’m honest.

Do you use annual engagement surveys or real-time tools?

Yes, we call it a pulse survey. We ask questions around, do you have tools to do your job? Do you feel that you can use your skills every day? Do you feel recognized and rewarded for the effort that you put in? The thing about that is that it’s always a lagging indicator. By the time you’ve actually analyzed all the results, maybe the engagement has changed.

We’re in the process of launching something where if you’re on the internet, your HR professional can create a little question that will pop up in your browser. And you can answer yes, no, highly engaged, or I’m not happy. You can do that as many times a day, week, or month you want so that you’ve almost got instant feedback on how the people feel within your organization. It’s just thinking about how we build that into a product.

The challenge with engagement is that, particularly when you’re doing research, it’s really important that we have an environment that’s transparent. We give everybody the results in their raw format. We don’t sit down and say, “Should we give this feedback to the employees?” We’ve made the decision, whatever the results, at whatever time, we will be totally transparent. If they take the time to fill in the survey then they deserve the respect of being able to see the results of what they’ve done. But I’ve worked in companies where I’ve filled in engagement surveys myself. And they’ve gone into the big, black hole.

What role should managers play in engaging their staff?

I think that managers probably play the most pivotal role in engagement, in that if you think about what it takes to be engaged at work, after the hygiene factors, the purpose, and fulfilment, being able to make progress at work is up there. If I feel that I am doing a better job than I did when I turned up in the morning, I think that I would be more engaged. So managers need to understand what motivates the people around them and create rewards and recognition that actually fulfil the needs of the individual.

There are things that HR can do that are company-wide, but millennials really want recognition that is in the moment, given in a way that links directly with their motivators. Managers need to be able to spend more time listening and being able to interpret what they hear, not necessarily taking what they hear at face value, but really diving deep into what are some of the barriers and behaviours that you see around you that are preventing you making that progress.

At Perkbox, we train all our managers in how to have decent performance conversations. We train our managers in a way that they actually really do see the link between engagement and performance. We don’t do appraisals. We do check-ins every month, and those check-ins focus on the results that you produce, but they also focus on the behaviours and how you feel about the results that you produce. The biggest change that we want to bring about at Perkbox, is that we want people to feel that they are in a culture of zero fear. You get the manager who will walk up to your desk and go, “Can I just have five minutes,” or, “Can I have a word?” And the person immediately goes into that whole fight or flight mode and think, “What will happen?” We want to create an environment where there’s zero fear, where people feel safe that they can say what they want in the spirit of trying to make things better. We are in the process of looking at how we can implement that through our managers here at Perkbox.

Have you been able to link engagement with better performance?

We’ve only just done our first poll survey. We will be doing that again in three months and we will have a look at whether there is a correlation.

What I would say is that you can definitely see in the office when people are engaged. I think about it as flow, when people are in flow, they look at the clock, and they go, “I can’t believe it’s 5:00. Where has that day gone,” rather than the employee who keeps looking at their watch. When people are in flow, you can see that they are being productive, and that’s the difference between companies that focus on engagement, which is the ability to make progress, bring your best self to work, and promote happiness, which is the ability to have a pool table and free coffee. I think Perkbox is attempting to do both.

But we’re not really at the stage to be able to say our engagement scores have gone up by 10% and our profits have gone up by 5% for example.

What other companies are getting this right?

  • John Lewis: Particularly around their partnership model and the fact that people come to work every day and every little contribution they make actually increases the profitability of the company, and they share in that profitability.
  • Google: They definitely have an engaging culture that encourages creativity and also transparency. People do get quite harsh feedback, but it’s done in the spirit of, “You are a valuable employee. It’s important that I tell you this right now because it will make you even better at what you do.”
  • Virgin: Virgin are really good in that they do try and encourage a culture of listening to their employees. I know that they have forums for the different brands that definitely have a voice in the direction and culture of Virgin.

Where do you think perks are heading in general?

Perks are going towards two things:

  1. Simplicity: To make engagement and perks more simple. The ability to use perks without too much effort. If you think about perks at the moment, depending on who your partner is, depends on the way that perk is delivered to you. So it could be through a card that you preload with money. And then you go to that shop and spend that money, and then you get a discount on that purchase. The problem with that is that you have to have some foresight in order to think, “Actually, I’m going to go to that shop. I need to upload my card. This is how much I think I will spend.” Even if that money does stay on that card, if you don’t spend it all, that’s dead money for you. There are other ways of having a QR code where you go into a shop and they scan your QR code, which is certainly better than the cards.
  2. Habits: 70% – 80% of what we do is habit so it’s being able to create perks that link to your everyday habits. It would be great if at 9 o’clock in the morning, and you get a little prompt that comes up in your browser or on your Smartphone that says, “Time for coffee.” Then at lunch time you get another one that says, “Time for lunch.” “Time to go to the gym.” And all of the perks that we have fit seamlessly into that habit so that it becomes automatic, and it’s always on, rather than having to make a conscious decision about which perk you need.

For certain things like the big perks, that would be appropriate, but for things that we do every day, if we can create a platform and an offering that enables people to be able to go, “This system has predicted that it’s time for coffee,” I think that will be significant progress.


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