The benefits you would never think of

An above-average pension package, a subsidised gym membership, and maybe if you are lucky, a ping pong table. It is safe to say that many benefit packages are suffering from a homogeneity that leaves little differentiation. So organisations are reimagining their traditional benefits package in order to attract and, more importantly, retain the best talent.

Weekly office socials, a subsidised gym membership, and maybe if you are lucky, a ping pong table. It is safe to say that many benefit packages have become catch-all, and are suffering from a homogeneity that leaves little differentiation. However, as the competition for standout talent rises, organisations are reimagining their traditional benefits package in order to attract, and more importantly, retain the best talent.

Employee benefits packages are an excellent way for businesses to showcase their tuned-in and compassionate approach to new hires. Which is really important when you consider that 55% of job seekers abandon their application process after reading negative reviews, and Millennials are 2.5 times more likely than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers to share their opinions about employers on review sites and social media (Randstad 2020).

In fact, two-thirds of the UK workforce believe benefits are equally, or even more important, than salary, according to research by Adler. The right benefits offer a real opportunity to differentiate your business when recruiting and the results do not stop at recruiting a more dynamic workforce. With 49% of Millennials stating they are likely to quit their job within two years, employee benefits offer an opportunity to reduce employee churn and retain talent for longer.

The competition for talent and homogeneity of benefits has led to some companies creating more radical packages, ranging from eccentric to wonderful. While many companies have often taken a tick-box approach to benefits design, progressive leaders have sought inspiration to break the mould, rising to the challenge of aligning their benefits packages with their internal values, as well as the needs of their new and current employees.

So, what unique options are already out there? We explore the emerging ideas through the lens of the five pillars of wellbeing – physical, social, emotional, professional, and financial.


Many employers fall into the trap of thinking that the financial benefits of coming to work start and end with payslips and mandated pension contributions — when actually there is a host of opportunities for employers to make every penny count.

Creating engagement in pension investing has always been a challenge, but ensuring that the fund offering aligns with the ethical investment values of the saver, or there are interesting options within the fund, shows how challenging traditional models can make a difference to long-term financial engagement. This is an excellent way to engage your younger workforce with their retirement plans by giving it more purpose, and ensure your staff are on the right side of the 80% of young workers who feel their pension is not aligned with their values.

Armed with the knowledge that good financial wellbeing can help to improve employee’s peace of mind and ultimately, their loyalty, other companies are looking to offer a helping hand in their own way. Employers are therefore offering financial wellbeing education, access to advice services and financial management tools and discounts schemes. While some companies are offering savings accounts such as LISAs or ISAs alongside their pension scheme to help their employees get on the property ladder, or build additional retirement benefits, others offer technology loans so employees can purchase gadgets at corporate rates.

Some forward-thinking organisations are even incentivising their financial benefits package to ensure employees are engaged and actively using them, by offering their entire workforce £500 to spend on said benefits. And in the rare event there is not a benefit to their liking? Those employees have the potential to be set up with a lifestyle account of the same value to spend on anything they deem would improve their wellbeing.

Helen Payne, Principal Consultant at Aon UK, found the latter to be one of the most interesting benefits she has personally implemented for a client:

‘The £500 lifestyle account we’ve implemented for Leonardo UK is truly unique — and has sparked lots of interesting conversations — as employees are able to spend it on almost anything they deem will help with their wellbeing. That might be golf memberships, learning a language, or even fertility treatment. It just goes to show that financial benefits don’t just impact employee pockets, they can make a real difference to their emotional wellbeing too.’

“It just goes to show that financial benefits don’t just impact employee pockets, they can make a real difference to their emotional wellbeing too.”

Helen Payne, Principal Consultant at Aon UK


When it comes to emotional wellbeing, fairly standard policies such as enforcing lunch breaks, flexi-time, and remote working can go a long way to help employees manage their work-life balance. But in the modern workplace, poor emotional wellbeing is an issue businesses need to address head on, if for no other reason that if left unchecked it can represent a significant direct and indirect cost in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced engagement, and increased claims costs.

A positive working environment, a culture of tolerance and openness, and clear policies to support emotional wellbeing must be the foundations on which an emotional wellbeing framework should be built. As a result, there are some really exciting opportunities for employers to differentiate themselves when it comes to emotional wellbeing,

Any approach to improving the emotional wellbeing of the workforce should start by determining what some of the root causes of the problem might be, and while these will be influenced by many factors in and out of the workplace, it is undeniable that businesses have a key role to play from a prevention, intervention, and support perspective. In response some companies are taking on-site first aiders further, to ensure that mental health is as well looked after as physical health, through the implementation of trained Mental Health First Aiders – who are on hand to support individuals and help make their life at work easier.

Other emotional benefits are more purpose-driven and help to align company values and goals with causes employees really care about, such as climate change. While many businesses may increasingly be pushing alternative travel options to reduce their professional carbon footprint, they are yet to consider how their benefits packages could motivate employees to change their sustainable behaviours outside of work. One radical solution is clean travel, which incentivises employees to travel to their holiday destination sustainably by rewarding them with free travel days by using longer, but greener, travel options.

Some progressive organisations have also gone beyond simply allowing dogs in the office, and are using their benefits package to respond to the notion that their workforce’s pets are just as important to them as their children. This has resulted in a range of new pet-friendly perks such as subsidised doggie-daycare, vet visits, and pet insurance, with some going even further by offering ‘pawternity leave’ to help new pet parents settle in their new arrivals. This not only helps those with pets focus at work, because their four-legged friends are taken care of, it also enables employees who may have not been able to commit previously to invest in a pet that could dramatically increase their emotional wellbeing.


Professional benefits have long been about training, development, and goal setting – but what about more compassionate professional benefits – the type that could help businesses show that they are fighting to reduce the diversity gap in the boardroom?

Across Europe, employer attitudes towards parental leave and its impacts on career development have evolved – are reflected in increasingly adopted shared parental leave policies. In response, a rising number of businesses are beginning to put in place more equal, and flexible, parental leave.

Others are focused on helping families return to work by adopting parent rooms for example, so that new parents have a safe space where they can transition back into regular work while continuing parental duties such as breastfeeding, pumping, or even working alongside their newborns. Some companies are going even further to ensure that families who want children have access to fertility treatment, be that IVF or egg freezing, to increase their chances of having the family lives they desire.

In contrast to helping newfound parents, providing elder care benefits recognises that older, and possibly more senior, staff may have their own family responsibilities they are also juggling alongside work. It is important to ensure your whole workforce remains invested and are productive by showcasing an emphasis on ensuring your benefits are fit for a range of life stages, and that their hard work will pay off into retirement.

Finally, spurred on by campaigns like the Valuable 500 where tokenistic diversity and inclusivity in corporates was called out, organisations are now proactively delivering D&I training, such as unconscious bias sessions, to ensure that all individuals are able to be themselves at work.

Research by BetterUp has shown that when employees are able to be open about their culture, sexuality, gender, or mental health they not only feel more valued and bonded to their teams, but are able to focus on their own goals and development because they have a stronger sense of belonging.


When discussing physical benefits, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a subsidised gym membership, on-site yoga classes, or cycle to work schemes. But there is a host of more compassionate benefits emerging that organisations are using to improve their employees’ physical wellbeing, which can have positive ramifications for their financial and emotional wellbeing too.

One approach has seen companies funding gender reassignment surgery by including this option as part of their private medical insurance. This continues post-transition by offering support for employees returning to work. Not only does this reduce the emotional strain of waiting for the surgery, but also the financial burden of funding the surgery themselves.

This way, there is also a shorter delay for the employer in gaining the huge positive effects from the professional and social benefits their employees see from transitioning.

Other companies are implementing physical benefits which go the extra mile to improve employees’ wellbeing such as smoking cessation programs, type 2 diabetes programs, and on-site health professionals such as nutritionists, physiotherapists, and even masseurs. These may seem like small gestures at face-value, but they are a great way to show you care about your employees’ wellbeing by giving them the choice to engage as and when they choose.


When it comes to social perks, many modern workplaces are implementing social events such as summer parties and festivals. This precedent remains as the world works from home amidst COVID-19, where teams are enjoying virtual work gatherings instead. Adapting to summer hours may seem counter-productive at face value, but is an opportunity to show employees that organisations understand the need for work-life balance, and are considerate to their socialisation outside of work.

Although these are great for team morale, connectivity, and interpersonal relationships, other emerging approaches take a wider view when it comes to socialising and integrating their teams. A corporate social responsibility (CSR) focus such as collective volunteer days, or volunteer time exchanges help staff to give back to their communities, and helps create a rewarding company ethos that is not only invested in its staff wellbeing, but the wellbeing of others in the community.

Rising to the challenge

By using the five pillars as a framework to align benefits with organisational and employee values, companies are able to create identities rooted in compassion and long-term thinking. This can be a source of pride internally, while it can be leveraged externally when recruiting new staff.

Andrew Letton, the Vice President of Employee Relations, Compensation & Benefits, at Leonardo UK tapped into this potential, by crafting their employee benefits packages around the five pillars:

‘Using the five pillars to structure our employee benefits we were able to create an identity based on what really mattered to people. This enabled us to be more relevant to our existing employees wellbeing and current interests, while also giving us a competitive advantage in the market when looking to attract new employees.’

But with so much choice on offer, and so many things to consider, how can companies ensure their approach means they will revolutionise and reap benefits simultaneously?

“Using the five pillars to structure our employee benefits we were able to create an identity based on what really mattered to people.”

Andrew Letton, Vice President of Employee Relations, Compensation & Benefits, at Leonardo UK

Align your ambitions

The most important factor when revolutionising your benefits offering is to get everyone invested, and clear on what you are trying to achieve. Leonardo was particularly fortunate due to the driving force they had propelling them internally, as Helen explained:

‘Leonardo set us a challenge as they didn’t think their benefits were fit for the modern world and the talent they wanted to attract. They didn’t want tweaks — they wanted radical change to get ahead of the curve — to recruit a workforce that would propel the company into the future. We presented benefits that normally clients love, but don’t go for. But Leonardo was able to action them due to the amazing support and backing from senior leadership.’

With their internal goals and reasons for motivation aligned from the start, Leonardo set a clear path and objectives they wanted to fulfil, and by understanding the importance of leadership support, they also created the basis for the whole organisation to be engaged in the process.

“Leonardo set us a challenge as they didn’t think their benefits were fit for the modern world and the talent they wanted to attract. They didn’t want tweaks — they wanted radical change to get ahead of the curve.”

Helen Payne, Principal Consultant at Aon UK

Get everyone involved

Armed with a clear vision and a strategy that involved getting everyone involved in the process, they were able to increase engagement by ultimately ensuring what was available married with what employees actually cared about.

Helen believes clear direction and alignment ensures success for employees:

“The best way to ensure your benefits package meets employee needs is to get them involved in the process. When reimagining employee benefits we want to ensure they align to the company’s values, but we also want to ensure people engage and actually use them.”

Helen Payne, Principal Consultant at Aon UK

Flexibility and choice

Although you might have a one-team mentality when embarking on this process, the beauty about getting everyone involved is that you can detect the nuances of your employee needs. Andrew found this to be the most important finding when engaging with what the workforce actually wanted:

‘We ran focus groups widely across our UK business to establish what they needed. Our people told us that they wanted greater flexibility and choice ingrained into their selection of benefits, which enabled us to help shape our employee proposition so it met all requirements and suited everyone’s individual needs.’

The end result incorporated this choice into a menu of benefits, and by ensuring everyone had access to the same benefits it enabled personalisation, so employees could use the options in ways that were most meaningful to them. Andrew describes why this was so important for Leonardo:

‘There is something for everyone in our benefits, which enables us to show that the company values what employees deem as meaningful and important to them. By placing our trust in employees throughout the process, we were able to give them the most value back, rather than just ticking off benefits from a set list that was decided on their behalf.’

“By placing our trust in employees throughout the process, we were able to give them the most value back.”

Andrew Letton, Vice President of Employee Relations, Compensation & Benefits, at Leonardo UK

For benefits to be truly meaningful to your employees, you need to engage with them to find out what matters most to them. This will not only present thought-provoking opportunities, but enables you to align your internal values and purpose with your people’s.

By treating wellbeing as a journey of discovery and really challenging the norms, companies can revolutionise their benefits packages, stretching what has come before into something that responds directly to employee needs.

This is a journey that Aon consultants are experts in guiding organisations on — enabling businesses globally to join the Rising Resilient — pioneering businesses redefining wellbeing at work, and realising the results.

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