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Flexible benefits: The self-service way

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21st Apr 2006
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Implementing a flexible benefits system is for many HR departments the next stage in the rewards journey, Sandy Boyle, Human Resources Director at Mills & Reeve shares his experiences.

HR Zone Q1: Why do you think Mills & Reeve is one of the best companies to work for?
Boyle:The firm seeks to provide an environment which engages, develops and rewards every member of staff for the contribution they make to the success of the business. People care about people and it is important that whilst at work, everyone enjoys what they do and they feel they make a difference. We also aim to have some fun along the way!

HR Zone Q2: What was the trigger for the self-service flexible benefits system?

Boyle: The trigger for the scheme itself was a resounding request from an employee opinion survey. The reason for introducing a self service platform was:

  • A: To keep the administration to a minimum although flexible benefits is quite administratively burdensome anyway but;
  • B: To make the scheme available to employees over a secure internet site so that they can discuss and make their selections from work or home, at their own convenience.

With the help of The Employee Benefits Group, we reviewed the flexible benefit software products available in the market. Our chosen product ‘Perquisite’ which sits behind the My£Reward portal, is provided and hosted by TBX.

HR Zone Q3: 3. How does it work?
Boyle: My£Reward is the benefit/remuneration portal where employees have access to information on all the benefits available to them. It also allows them to view an up to date Total Reward Statement at any time. It is through this portal that employees have access to ‘flex’ their benefits at certain times during the year, should they choose to do so.

Each employee can view the benefits they currently enjoy and against the flexible benefits, they have the option to increase or decrease the levels. The also have the opportunity to sign up to a number of voluntary benefits such as childcare vouchers.

Before making a final decision, the site provides employees with an estimated net effect on their pay so that they can enter into the change with some idea of how this might affect them. Having selected the required benefits, employees are asked twice whether they are happy to accept the change, before the changes are made.

Access can be gained whilst at work, from home or anywhere with internet access. Employees can be safe in the knowledge that security to the flexible benefits platform itself is handled using SSL 3 (Secure Sockets Layer 3) 128-bit encryption.

HR Zone Q4: How have HR staff adapted to it?
Boyle: HR staff are used to dealing with and publicising information online and support employees with a comprehensive HR intranet. Change affecting them is purely one of training and understanding a new software product. The business is very IT focused and staff - IT literate.

HR Zone Q5: How long has the flexible benefits system been in place?
Boyle: The first stage of the project went live on 1 September 2005 and was to introduce online total reward statements in order to get everyone used to the system before the introduction of choice and flex.

Flexible benefits were launched on 1 March 2006, the enrolment window has recently closed and benefits are effective from 1 April 2006. Taking part was completely voluntary and phase one saw an uptake of 49%. Phase two launches in November when we expect to see a greater number of employees taking part.

HR Zone Q6: What benefits are offered?
Boyle: Flexible benefits offered include:

  • Pension salary sacrifice
  • Life Assurance
  • PHI
  • Home Computing Initiative
  • Childcare Vouchers
  • Bikes4work
  • Holiday buy and sell
  • PMI

The firm also offers a number of other benefits to staff including:

  • Conveyancing
  • Discount shopping portal
  • Staff bonus scheme etc

HR Zone Q7: Which benefits are most popular?
Boyle: Forty per cent of pension scheme members chose to salary sacrifice their contribution. Eighteen per cent of employees chose to buy or sell holiday and just over 12% of eligible employees wanted to take advantage of the home computing initiative scheme before it was removed.

More: are cafeteria-style reward schemes ethical?

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