By Brenden Mielke, Product Director at Thomsons Online Benefits
The UK tech sector is expanding at a phenomenal rate, so much so that in 2015, UK tech businesses are set to grow four times faster than the national GDP. Against this backdrop, forward-thinking organisations are considering whether they have access to the rich stream of tech talent needed to fuel expansion. While attracting the right candidates is no mean feat in this competitive environment, it is still only half the battle, as getting employees on-boarded and working efficiently as part of a team can present its own unique set of challenges.
The issue is that while many technology companies continued to grow during the financial crisis, recruitment and investment in human capital and HR systems remained low. Now, against a backdrop of consistently increasing workloads and economic optimism, it’s become more important than ever for firms to retain their top talent. In many cases generous salaries and share options are still not an option, so organisations need to be savvy about how they incentivise employees and communicate reward strategy. Few would disagree that employee benefits play an important role within this. However, with recent research indicating that the average UK worker under appreciates their benefits package by over £1,400, its critical employers consider how they are communicating their rewards, and whether they have the technology in place to enable employees to take advantage of them. This is particularly true in the technology sector, where employees are justified in expecting internal systems to mirror the sophistication of those they’re developing.
While we’re likely to see technology firms place an increased focus on recruitment over the forthcoming year, consolidation will also play a significant role in company and sector growth. With a smooth on-boarding process vital to the success of any merger or acquisition, organisations need to ensure they have systems with the necessary capability in place before embarking on this. This is potentially a sensitive time for employees joining the organisation, particularly if they’ve come from a smaller firm where they may have had greater creative freedom and influence over company direction. If this transition is not managed carefully, they could end up feeling undervalued and resentful – and voting with their feet.
While there are a number of cultural exercises, away days and buddying schemes for example, that can help foster a sense of collaboration, one of the most effective ways to unite employees is to provide them with a shared, consistent experience of their organisation, and one which demonstrates its identity and values. Having employees operating on different HR systems, with different payroll and benefits providers only prolongs distinctions and creates a sense of confusion. It is therefore critical that organisations consider whether their HR systems are aligned with their expansion plans, and work to lay a strong technical foundation, able to accommodate their current and future workforce plans.
This in itself requires business leaders to use foresight and imagination. With many talented individuals working longer than ever, employers are increasingly facing a future with four generations of employees within their workforces. Indeed, research from Thomsons Online Benefits has found that 24% organisations are already focusing on hiring younger workers, while 23% are looking to rehire retired employees. Despite this intention, over a third of businesses are struggling to implement the HR systems to support this strategy, with 38% of businesses globally admitting they find providing a flexible global benefits strategy for different demographics difficult.
The need for flexibility in HR and benefits systems is not just being driven by demographic diversity. There is a growing demand from employees, particularly millennials, to be recognised as individuals, and one of the most effective ways for employers to do this is through their approach to reward. Instigating a flexible benefits system that allows employees to pick and choose the benefits relevant to them will help employers improve their employer value proposition, increase employee interaction with their benefits schemes and fundamentally improve their engagement with the company. With this in mind, forward thinking organisations should be looking to install HR and benefits systems with the elasticity for expansion, and the flexibility to accommodate different ages, backgrounds and tastes.
While this is a challenge for many organisations, there are some that have met this head on and are now reaping the business rewards. The Engine Group for example, the UK’s largest independent communications company, is the result of a 13-way merger between businesses in diverse market sectors. While each of these had a distinct demographic and culture, Engine wanted to create a decisive company identity able to unite all employees under one banner. Providing all employees access to the same set of flexible benefits was a big step towards doing this. The move reinforced a sense of choice within a community, and enabled Engine to easily move employees from one area of the business to another to make the most of their individual skillsets.
While building elasticity and flexibility into HR systems has many benefits for employees, it is also practical and cost effective for businesses, particularly those in fast-growth areas such as technology. While most traditional systems require software code changes to accommodate different benefits, flexible software enables all of these variations to be managed through configuration, meaning that changes can be made in a matter of minutes rather than months. Every option, from traditional benefits, such as medical insurance, to more innovative ones such as baby bonding packages or discounted holiday home usage, can be easily configured.
While few companies would exclusively link employee retention to efficient HR administration, the importance of speed and ease in the on-boarding process should not be underestimated. Few would deny that first impressions are the most important. By laying strong technical foundations, companies can ensure that they provide a positive, consistent first impression to every new hire, no matter how many of these there may be.