Business

Foreign investors changing employee benefits landscape

One US firm offered staff an allowance to travel the world

THE number of foreign firms establishing bases in Northern Ireland has increased markedly over recent years.

There were more than 2,200 foreign direct investment projects in the UK last year – 11 per cent up on 2015 and an all-time record - according to the Department for International Trade.

Northern Ireland alone saw 33 new projects over the period and the region is the best performing part of the UK in terms of attracting foreign investment per capita.

And while the UK's decision to leave the European Union has cast doubt over the future enthusiasm of firms from outside the region setting up in Northern Ireland, there is no doubt the influx of foreign companies has already changed the local economic landscape.

Foreign firms have bolstered burgeoning industries such as the software, legal and financial services sectors by arriving in numbers and creating new sectoral clusters.

Many have also promoted a new culture of rewarding staff through generous and creative employee benefits packages.

And they often go far beyond the traditional benefits of a good salary, five weeks' holiday a year and maybe even a company car.

Recruitment website Glassdoor produced a list of the 20 more unusual benefits offered by UK-based companies to staff.

Benefits from companies headquartered in the United States featured heavily and included a $2,000 allowance from Airbnb to travel the world, while Google provides its staff with a range of cuisine to eat in work.

Law firm Allen & Overy, meanwhile, provides an on-site GP and dentist at some of its premises.

These practices have rubbed off on UK firms with London software developer Huddle offering a £5,000 ‘Huddle Cuddle' to new employees, while Edinburgh comparison site Skyscanner has negotiated staff discounts at pubs and beauty salons.

While these perks may be considered among the more unusual on offer, a simple range of benefits can be every bit as appropriate.

Getting the employee benefits mix right can make a difference to a company's bottom line.

That's because rewarding staff builds up employee loyalty and productivity, and improves retention rates, thereby cutting down on money spent on recruitment and training.

Schemes such as private medical insurance, health cash plans and critical illness can also reduce absenteeism and the associated costs.

Other options include offering income protection, death in service benefits and pension plans.

The needs will vary between sectors and from one company to another, so it is important to take a tailored approach to creating a rewards package.

Further research from Glassdoor also found that more than a third of people considered perspective benefits and perks among their priorities when seeking new employment.

The prevalence of benefits among FDI companies and emerging sectors means it is now commonplace for job candidates to ask about additional benefits available when interviewing for new positions.

In a competitive recruitment market, most foreign direct investors are ready to answer the question. The challenge for local employers is to seek advice to meet the increasing demands of jobseekers.

:: Richard Willis is managing director of independent insurance broker Willis IRM (www.willisinsurance.co.uk), which works across all sectors in the north providing a range of insurance, wealth management, accident investigation, health and safety, and employment law services

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