The world of employee benefits is vast and, honestly, pretty confusing…So, whether you’re a HR person looking for the perfect offering for your team, or you’re an employee who's interested in what’s out there - we’ve got you covered! We’ve created the ultimate guide to Employee Benefits. This way, you can get an idea of what employee benefits actually are, the types that exist, and why they’re important!
What are employee benefits?
Employee benefits are a form of non-salary related compensation. They’re given to employees in addition to traditional salary, forming part of total rewards. Employee benefits are used to attract talent, reward your existing team, and as a way to support employee physical and mental health & wellbeing.
The types of employee benefits offered by employers can vary greatly across industries and countries. In general, they consist of pension schemes, health/life insurance schemes, paid holidays and leave, & other perks like gym memberships, cycle to work schemes etc.
Employee benefits can benefit both the employee and the employer, as a great offering often means more satisfied employees and therefore more motivated employees. More on this later!
What is the history of employee benefits?
Employee benefits came about at the turn of the last century as some firms believed they had a duty to care for their employees.
One of the first examples of employee benefits in the UK comes from the well-known chocolate company, Cadbury’s. In 1895, Cadbury’s created Bournville (yep, just like the chocolate bar!) - a residential area surrounding their factory in Birmingham.
They believed in supporting a healthy workforce and provided housing with plenty of green space to encourage outdoor activities! Cadbury’s even set up a scholarship programme for their young workers to support their education!
The creation of the welfare state after WW2 meant there was less need for employers to provide benefits as a sense of duty. They became more of an act of goodwill.
In the 70s and 80s, employee benefits sadly became a loophole for businesses to get around the difficulties of fixed pay.
Whilst they certainly can positively impact business performance, we like to think they’ve come full circle. Now, being used once more as a force for good by employers looking out for their team.
Examples of employee benefits
Employee benefits come in countless shapes and sizes - no one size fits all. Typical offerings include insurance policies, health & wellbeing, workplace benefits, salary sacrifice schemes, financial benefits - and so many more!
With so many different types of benefits out there, we’ve tried our best to condense them into the following list of examples:
1. Flexible and remote working
Flexa defines flexible working as: A job where you can work from home up to four days per week, or one where you can arrange your working hours around your lifestyle.
2. Paid leave
This is paid time off given to your employees. This includes maternity & paternity leave, adoption leave, and holiday allowances. Read more about maternity and paternity leave in our guide
3. Wellness programs
Prioritise your team’s wellbeing and keep them happy with subsidised gym memberships and fitness classes.
E.g., Gympass, Classpass, or a Ben budget
4. Mental health support
Prioritising your team’s mental health is more important now than ever. It’s so important to know the steps you can take to support your team through the best and also the toughest times.
At Ben, we use Oliva - to give our team 24/7 access to a mental health professional.
5. Childcare and family
Childcare can be a HUGE cost for parents. It can be a massive help for employers to ease the financial burden for employees.
“Ben’s Workplace Nursery Scheme...has had a huge impact financially on my family, and I’m so grateful for that”
6. Learning and development
Setting aside a dedicated budget for learning and development supports your team’s growth within your company. A flexible budget is a great way to do this. E.g., Learnably, Linkedin Learning
7. GOV scheme
Salary sacrifice schemes are government funded and exempt from tax. These are paid for by the employee from their gross salary (before tax).
E.g., Cycle to work & Octopus EV scheme
Offering share equity in your business can improve your team’s motivation, loyalty and gives them a sense of ownership.
9. Company events/socials
Subsidising social events can be a great way to encourage your team to blow off some steam.
10. Workplace pension
Pension can be an employee benefit when employers contribute more than the standard rate to an employee’s pension.
E.g., Smart Pension, Nest pension
11. Life insurance
Life insurance is a policy where if you die, the insurance company pays out a lump sum to your beneficiaries. This is also known as a death benefit.
Life insurance benefits create peace of mind for the employee and their dependents.
E.g., Vitality Life
12. Medical insurance
With medical insurance, the employer pays a premium in exchange for private medical cover for the employee. This way, your team can relax, knowing they’ll receive great healthcare & are covered in the event that they need medical attention.
E.g., Freedom Health Insurance
13. Income protection
Income protection protects you financially if you can’t work because of sickness or disability. The chosen insurer pays the policyholder a regular income until they return to work. This provides a financial safety net for employees.
E.g., Vitality Life
14. Critical illness
Critical illness insurance plans cover you in the instance that you’re diagnosed with the likes of cancer, renal failure, heart attacks, stroke, or need an organ transplant.
E.g., Aviva, Vitality
15. Dental cover
Dental Cover is a type of health insurance that covers some of the costs of dental care. It insures the policyholder for things like routine check-ups, as well as dental procedures.
E.g., Simply Health, Bupa, Axa
What benefits do employees actually want?
Knowing which benefits to offer can be tough. Sometimes what we say we want and what we actually want can be very different - especially in a professional environment.
Darren might say that an extra mouse pad will boost his happiness, but in reality, all he really wants is a bi-weekly office Nerf battle between the product and sales teams. A lot of beef to be ironed out there, trust us.
To give you a better idea of the types of benefits that employees actually want, we’ve cobbled together some data from our Benefits Outlook survey, and some other sources.
Ben’s Benefits Outlook Survey has revealed that out of over 400 companies, 39% of employers are looking to increase their benefits budget in the next 12 months. Almost half of those surveyed are planning to add flexible allowances to their employee benefits package.
Our survey also revealed the following most popular benefits
Whereas, Aviva found that their team’s 10 most in-demand benefits (in order of importance) are:
- 22-35 days of paid annual leave
- Pension scheme
- Flexible / remote working
- Paid sick leave & Critical illness insurance
- Bonuses & share equity
- Learning & Development
- Health & Life insurance
- Unlimited annual leave / buy & sell options
- Free meals
- Dental care
Clearly, remote working and flexible working is a hit among employees. YouGov found that 57% of UK workers want to be able to continue working from home after the pandemic. They also found that 39% of this group would prefer fully remote over hybrid, whereas 18% would prefer hybrid. Interesting, right?
Of course, your team might not actually want any of these things. Everyone is different. The best way to find out is to ask them. We recommend conducting regular surveys to find out what really motivates your team!
How much do employee benefits cost?
The cost of employee benefits can vary greatly depending on how many people are on your team, the types of benefits you want to offer, the level of coverage (in the case of insurance products), and the number of benefits you’re planning to offer.
It’s for this very reason that we created the benefits cost calculator, to help give you a rough idea of how much your chosen benefits package might cost you.
Employee benefits taxation
Disclaimer: this does not replace financial advice.
What are the considerations?
When designing a benefits package, it’s important to take tax into account. Savings can be found in many places, meaning you may be able to afford more than you think!
With hundreds of different types available in the UK, the tax regulations can be a bit tricky to get your head around! Below, we’ve created a list of our whole range of popular tax savings and how you can take advantage of them.
What employee benefits are tax exempt?
Health & Wellness
Health Screening / Medical Check-up
Making sure your employees are healthy is good for business, not to mention the benefits that regular check-ups can have. Each employee is entitled to one health check-up per year, tax-free.
In a bid to tackle the growing mental health crisis, from April 2020, employers can provide tax-free counselling services to employees. From meditation apps to therapy, we work with a diverse range of mental health providers to suit your employees' needs.
Saving enough to retire comfortably is a source of worry for many, however for many of your employees, there’s still time to make a difference. Whether they need to know how much to save or they want to rebalance their portfolio, you can provide pension advice worth up to £500 tax-free. We have a range of great advisors who can help.
Group Life, also known as "Death in Service" insurance, is a life insurance policy that pays out a lump sum to one's next of kin in the event of death. The policy costs and the benefit amount, if paid, are tax-free.
Salary sacrifice, the process of paying for benefits with your gross salary, enables employees to save on a range of products and services, without cost to you.
There are two types of schemes: those that are exempt from Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax and those that are not exempt.
Exempt schemes allow employees to save up to 47%, depending on the rate of tax they pay.
These include: Cycle to Work, Workplace Nursery, EV Scheme & Payroll Giving.
Want more examples? Check out our blog post
on salary sacrifice.
Non-exempt schemes allow employees to save up to 12% depending on the rate of tax they pay. These include: Techscheme, GymFlex & Car Maintenances Scheme.
The trivial benefits exemption is arguably the most cost-efficient way to reward your employees.
The rules are fairly straightforward, the benefit is exempt from tax so long as:
- it costs you £50 or less to provide
- it isn't cash or a cash voucher (this means monthly flexible allowances are not trivial benefits as they are considered cash)
- it isn't a reward for their work or performance
- it isn't in the terms of their contract
There's also no limit to the number of trivial benefits you can provide annually (unless you're a Director).
Working from home allowance
Working from home incurs a cost. From electricity to water, these utilities are business expenses during working hours. However, it's virtually impossible to account for the actual cost so businesses have the option to provide an allowance of £6 per week (£26 per month) to contribute towards costs.
There are no restrictions on spend and no requirement for receipts. The exemption doesn't apply to employees that choose to work from home.
Business expenses (which are also benefits!)
Staff entertaining is tax-free if the events are work-related. This includes drinks, workplace meals and team lunches.
Meals provided in the office are exempt from tax, so long as all employees are offered the meal and it's consumed on the premises. Meals don't need to be prepared in the office and can be ordered in!
Late Night Taxis
For those odd occasions where employees work late, they can get a cab home tax free. Your employees could link their Ben card to their favourite rideshare app for hassle-free expenses. There's a limit to 60 journeys per year.
Learning & Development
Work-related learning and development (L&D) is an awesome benefit to offer. Upskilling your team helps them work better and gives employees the tools they need to grow.
L&D costs are tax-free and the Ben platform allows you to manage your L&D budget without the admin.
Do members of your team have a work mobile phone? You can give your team a mobile phone tax-free - so long as the contract is in the company name.
Home Office Equipment
With more people working from home now than ever, you can give your team all the office equipment they need, without worrying about tax implications.
What are examples of employee benefits programmes?
Okay, so we’ve listed the types of employee benefits, but what are some real life examples of benefits that businesses have introduced?
We’ve done the heavy lifting for you and gathered a list of 10 companies with the coolest employee benefits.
Our favourites are Impala (offer a flexible monthly budget through Ben - not that we’re biassed) and Akraya (have their team’s houses professionally cleaned every 2 weeks).
Chattermill reward loyalty with a flexible monthly allowance that increases by £25 for each year the employee stays at the company!
Gymshark get their employees to choose a ‘perk of the week’ through their benefits platform.They’ve also teamed up with to offer personalised financial guidance.
Fully remote before it was cool, Hotjar focus on holiday perks for their employees.They offer a holiday budget of €2,000/year, 40 days paid holiday per year & two company retreats!
Oliva is driving mental health support in the workplace forward through offering their whole team 24/7 one-to-one mental health support.
Improbable offers a flexible monthly benefits solution and custom Ben allowance card for treating their employees with guilt-free spends.
Spotify support parenthood through fertility and family planning benefits like 6 months fully paid parental leave, and covering the cost of various fertility treatments.
Akraya arrange for their employees’ homes to be professionally cleaned every 2 weeks, helping to restore work-life balance… because who loves scrubbing bathrooms?
Maze is driving mental health support in the workplace forward through offering their whole team 24/7 one-to-one mental health support.
Propellernet have a ‘dream machine’ filled with each employee’s personal dream. Whenever the company hits a major target, a dream is drawn from the machine and that employee's dream comes true!
Google support their employees’ families by offering the spouse or partner of deceased employees 50% of their salary for up to 10 years after their death
How do you implement an employee benefits programme?
1. Define your budget
First thing’s first: how much can you spend? Managers often skip this step, eager to get to the fun stuff. But imagine designing your team's dream benefits package, just to find out it’s too expensive to be approved.
Remember, it’s not all about adding costs! Some benefits, like working from home for example, can actually save you and your employees money.
2. Decide what to offer
Benefits programmes have notoriously low engagement which is why they sometimes get a bad rep. “We offered life insurance but no one signed up!” That's because half your team is under 30 and this isn’t a priority for them!
Every team is different, so the best way to find out is to run a survey. We recommend conducting regular surveys and speaking to your team!
3. Negotiate with brokers and providers
Once you know what you want, you have 2 options: either work with a benefits platform who can negotiate your package for you, or speak to each provider individually.
Some things to note when going down the DIY route is that negotiating with several providers at once can be time-consuming and generally a bit of a faff. Plus, the best prices are usually reserved for large companies.
At Ben, we pool all of our smaller scale customers so you still get the best rates without having to hire 20,000 new employees!
4. Roll out your program
So you’ve signed on the dotted line… Now what? It’s time to shout about your shiny new benefits package!
Check out these awesome examples of videos put together by some of our customers to promote the launch of their new benefits.
5. Manage and sustain admin
Keeping your package up to date is really important for its long term success. What you started with might not be relevant next year.
There's also the admin that comes with employee benefits. If you work with an insurance broker, every time an employee joins or leaves you’ll have to update them. This is where a benefits platform can be really handy - they automate all the admin for you.
Considerations for remote teams
Are you finding it tricky to manage an employee benefits programme for your international, remote team?
Offering a world-wide benefits programme is never straightforward. However, it is becoming less complex and more accessible thanks to innovation happening in this space. A universal package can be a great way to make distant employees feel included in your company culture.
Different regions have different legislation when it comes to total compensation and employee benefits. For example:
- In France, it’s a legal requirement for businesses to provide employees with lunch vouchers
- In the USA, all companies with over 50 employees are required to provide Health Insurance
Even if it’s not required by law, in some cultures there are certain employee benefits that are expected on a local level.
Making sure you’re aware of these regional differences is crucial for your benefits package’s success.
The definition of total compensation can go well beyond salary depending on which country you are look at. Bonuses and benefits are often included which could lead to your costs being much higher than you might expect.
The more countries you consider, the more standards you’ll have to meet, and the more complex things get. Unfortunately, this will inevitably multiply your costs.
Don’t let this put you off though, it’s still totally possible to design an affordable international offering in most cases. Just be sure to take this into consideration before you start work on international benefits.
Common benefits may not translate internationally
Some benefits you’re considering offering overseas may not be useful or necessary for people in some countries. Take health insurance, for example. In the US, this is a common benefit and can be very helpful for people living there. However, it’s not as important for residents of countries where free healthcare is available.
What are fringe benefits?
Fringe benefits are just another way of saying ‘employee benefits’. They are non-salary related compensation.
What are flexible benefits?
Flexible employee benefits are benefits that let your team choose what works best for them. This could mean they can opt-in and opt out of benefits that you offer them, or they’re given a flexible allowance which they can spend on things they like!
What is ‘Total Rewards’?
Total reward is the combination of all the ways a company invests in their team. Total reward includes employee benefits, compensation, and workplace policies.
Why choose an employee benefits platform?
Employee benefits platforms do the heavy-lifting for you when it comes to negotiating with brokers and benefits providers. Benefits platforms are flexible and automate the employee benefits process.