Employees who feel financially secure make for an excellent workforce, finds Joanne Ellul

When Asda’s save-as-you-earn scheme matured last May, 15,600 of the grocer’s staff pocketed 90% more money than they paid into the scheme through discounted shares in parent company Walmart.

A benefit that doubles employees’ savings is clearly highly compelling, but retailers are finding that smaller perks that make an ongoing contribution to their staff’s wellbeing can make a significant difference to workforce morale, too.

According to a survey for Standard Life in January, eight in 10 employers said they felt responsible for their employees’ financial security, and more than half thought the role of providing support and security to employees is more important than five years ago. But there is a mismatch between employer and employee perception. Three-quarters of employees said they would value more help from their employer in this area. So where are retailers falling down? And what are some of the best examples of financial support?

While a fifth of Asda employees took part in the SAYE scheme, the grocer’s most popular financial benefit is the 10% colleague discount. Asda director of people policy Sarah Dickins says staff can see how much they’ve saved through their discount on their payslip. Dickins says: “We’ve put a lot more effort into offering local promotions, like money off local hairdressers.”

It all adds up

  • 22% of employers said they feel ‘primarily responsible’ for their employees’ financial security
  • Three quarters of employees would value more support from their employer around financial planning
  • 56% of employers think the role of providing support and security to employees is more important than five years ago
  • 63% of employers do not believe their employees understand the financial value of their benefits
  • 68% of employees named their pension as their most valued benefit

Source: Standard life

Online fashion retailer Asos has a similar stance. Its employees are helped with their long-term financial planning by a bonus scheme, SAYE scheme and pension. In terms of SAYE, Asos head of people Andrea Anderson says: “The share price has risen since it was introduced in 2008. There has been a definite increase in people that participate in the scheme.”

Patrick Egan, managing director of business development organisation Endaba, which works with retailers such as Sainsbury’s and White Stuff, says SAYE schemes are becoming more popular. They help staff feel like they have “ownership over the business, so they work harder,” says Egan. But he says pensions is an area that requires employers to communicate better. “Few people can tell you what their entitlement is,” he adds. Having this knowledge about pensions is particularly an issue in retail where there is a high turnover of staff, he says.

So offering a good financial benefits package is a start, but communicating those benefits and making them accessible is crucial. A truly informed and therefore engaged workforce is vital to success.