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:
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:
Top 10 most popular employee 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.
Why offer a strong employee benefits package?
With the war for talent raging, attracting top talent has become more challenging than ever. Although not the cure, a solid employee benefits package is a powerful tool for attracting and retaining talent. But why is this?
Below, we’ve outlined the benefits of a great benefits package for both your team and your business. You can find out more about this in our blog.
Wellbeing and happiness are now at the forefront of everything we do - including at work! Couple this with a competitive talent market, and we are now at the point where great benefits aren't just desired, but expected.
Supporting your team with great employee benefits can positively impact their happiness, both at work and outside of it.
It’s not always about the good times. Sometimes it’s how an employer goes about making the tough times a little easier that counts the most.
- Private medical insurance can make dealing with health issues much less painful.
- Life insurance can reduce the burden of losing a loved one.
Whereas other benefits are just for fun, like team activities and fun budgets. All can help boost mood and morale, sparking a little more joy.
If making people happy wasn’t enough to sway you, the knock on effects of their happiness might. As you might expect, improving your team’s mood will also have a positive impact on their productivity.
Infact, 97% of HR managers agree that an employee being happier would lead to higher productivity (The Wellbeing Agenda 2018). It makes sense, right? The happier you are, the less things you find to distract yourself with!
It can cost up to £30,000 to lose an employee who earns over 25k a year. £30,000! Now we can see why retention is a massive priority for HR professionals. It takes a lot of time and money to replace people, especially great people.
For millennials, “better benefits” was in the top 3 reasons they changed jobs in 2020 (Linkedin Global Talent Report 2020). To add to that, feeling satisfied with their benefits package was also linked to employees being less likely to move elsewhere.
As if you needed any more reasons to offer benefits… it turns out great benefits are good for business - shock!
Great employee benefits improve employee wellbeing. Greater employee wellbeing is proven to improve productivity and business performance.
As we mentioned earlier, it costs around £30,000 to replace an employee earning over 25k a year. This means that losing and replacing employees can leave you significantly out of pocket! So, not only can you face losing great employees due to poor benefits packages, but it can be a super costly process for your business too!
Employee benefits taxation
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 & wealth
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.
£5,040 per year (£420 per month)!
Want more examples? Check out our blog post on salary sacrifice.
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.
Worried about accidental use? Ben lets you add restrictions like Uber & Bolt on weekdays, between 10pm-2am.
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).
They’ve also teamed up with to offer personalised financial guidance.
They offer a holiday budget of €2,000/year, 40 days paid holiday per year & two company retreats!
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.