Can one size fit all? Flexing your business

Flexible working has become widespread in many businesses, reflecting changes in technology as well as employees' expectations about their work-life balance. Now the idea is spreading to pay and benefits, so how could it work for you?

The concept can include everything from flexible access to salary, flexible work options, financial wellbeing benefits and flexible pension options.

Ideally a benefits package could be tailored to suit each individual employee’s needs – and these can vary. Many employees may prefer to have fewer benefits in favour of a higher salary, and some are even prepared to sacrifice holiday entitlement in exchange for a pay rise. Others would happily cut back on benefits if it meant more holiday. So flexibility could help retain current employees, and also help recruit the best talent.

Smaller employers

Smaller employers may not be in a position to offer a full range of flexible pay and benefits. However, some options should be possible.

  • Flexible pension options: Employees can choose to save more for their retirement, which is particularly important given that many employees feel unprepared financially for giving up work.
  • Flexible training: Employers can provide a fixed amount that employees can spend on training courses unrelated to work, improving productivity and creativity in the day job.
  • Workplace loans: Employees can access a proportion of their salary, interest-free, before the normal payday. Such flexibility will help employees avoid debt and cope with unexpected expenses.

Flexible working

Flexible working has traditionally been seen as flexitime, but there are other approaches, such as job sharing, working from home, moving from full-time to part-time, working the same number of hours but over fewer days, annualised hours (working a fixed number of hours annually, with flexibility outside of core hours), and staggered hours (having different start, finish and break times from other workers). Different businesses will of course have different requirements.

Such flexibility allows an employee to take more control over their work-life balance, often without seeing their pay suffer. Parents appreciate the flexibility, and working from home removes the time, cost and stress of commuting.

A multi-generational workforce

One of the greatest challenges to offering flexible working is that the workforce might consist of several age groups. Flexibility therefore needs to span every stage of an employee’s life, from coping with student debt to moving towards retirement. The key to getting this right is listening to what employees actually want, rather than making assumptions based on their age.

For example, help with childcare cannot be aimed at a specific age group because an older employee might adopt or a grandparent might want to take grandparental leave. Although younger and older employees may be presumed as having the most needs, it is just as important not to forget those in the middle – they might have children away at university, but now support older parents needingcare.

One straightforward option is to allocate an allowance for an employee to spend on whatever suits them. Group risk products can be useful because they can cater for multi-generational needs. However, care must be taken in how such products are structured, particularly around potential tax liabilities.

Flexible thinking around what a business can offer is the first step.