As the year draws to a close, HR departments up and down the country will be reviewing the year gone by and planning new initiatives for 2015 and beyond. With this in mind, financial protection specialist Unum, counts down the 10 most unusual benefits of 2014 and their potential merits and pitfalls.

10 – Massage waiting

Communications agency Battenhall offers its employees a free massage allowance. Unum’s Future Workplace report found the media and advertising sector as a whole is very open to the idea of a mindful workplace, and workers crave the opportunity to recharge mentally. A massage is perfect for this, getting staff away from their desks and, more importantly, off their computers and phones to help them achieve balance in their busy, hyper-connected digital lifestyles.

An allowance also ensures two things. Firstly, it reassures the management team that the benefit won’t be abused, but it also ensures that workers actually take advantage of what is being offered and are encouraged to use their allowance. People stay with companies that demonstrate they value – and care for – their employees. Employers should look at their entire benefits offering to help them improve wellbeing and keep their best people.

9 – All aboard

Google was always going to feature somewhere in this list, and several of its benefits have hit the headlines this year. One that you may not have spotted, though, is the free shuttle bus to work on offer to employees in San Francisco. Amongst the much more techy or quirky benefits on offer, this free shuttle bus (equipped with Wi-Fi of course) is listed as one of the top benefits by employees. This really illustrates how companies need to take steps to understand what benefits employees actually want and what will really resonate with them.

8 – The great outdoors

The Office Group relocated staff from its London offices to its roof garden in the summer, taking advantage of the warm weather and the chance to work somewhere new. Making outdoor space available to colleagues encourages them to break for lunch and, weather permitting, conduct some of their meetings outdoors. The Future Workplace report also found that daydreaming or letting the mind wander can actually help problem-solving, so sitting outside in the sun or having a walk during a break can create a win-win situation.

7 – Back to school

Starbucks in America announced this year it will be offering free college tuition to part and full-time workers. Employees can choose from more than 40 online courses run through Arizona State University.

Employers should help workers understand their personal journey at the company, and a clear training and education path is central to this. A clear development path will maximise employee retention and energise workers to think in the longer term about what they can do for the company. Regular mental and physical training and education will increase levels of stamina, much like preparing for a marathon, and so should always play a role within the larger benefits package.

Unum’s research found that staff turnover costs on average £30,614 per employee, and a flexible work environment that supports staff retention could have a big financial impact on the business, so it’s worth trying something new.

6 – Face the music

PR company Havas Worldwide organises its own free music festival each year for staff to attend. Getting staff off-site and concentrating on something non-work related like this will help to create a collaborative workforce. When employees are back in the office, they will be more inclined to engage on a social as well as professional basis, and HR managers can encourage this further by operating a flat structure.

This study has shown that a third of employees would consider leaving a job due to poor workplace wellbeing, and so employers should look at their entire offering and identify what they can offer above and beyond the traditional benefits to attract and retain the best people.

5 – Don’t rock the boat

IT firm Postcode Anywhere takes advantage of its canal-side location in the West Midlands by providing free kayaks for employees to use and there is even a company barge. Offering moments of tranquillity and downtime will help counteract the effect of an always-on world. Downtime results in greater productivity, as employees prioritise their tasks and work more efficiently and collaboratively to complete the job in hand. If you don’t have a canal to hand, then setting up meditation pods or specific areas in the office for individual focus and concentration will have the same effect.

4 – Happy Birthday Mr President

Australia-based media organisation, Filtered Media, gives staff an extra day’s holiday each year on ‘Marilyn Day’ to commemorate when Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy in the ‘60s. Offering staff an extra day’s holiday is nothing new, but framing it around an unusual calendar moment will bring attention to the benefit and help engage staff in what they are being offered. Failing to tell staff about employee benefits on offer is costing UK companies £2.7bn a year through increased staff turnover and sickness absence. Here, Filtered Media shows that articulating the benefit in a successful way is just as important as the benefit itself.

3 – Leaving on a jet plane

Legal firm Freeborn & Peters hosts an annual “luggage party” where all employees bring a packed suitcase to the office and four are selected at random for an expenses-paid weekend in Las Vegas. The reason this works so well is that everyone has an equal chance of winning. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new starter or a director, all employees have the chance to strike it lucky. This helps to create a collaborative workplace with a flat, open structure. As with the Marilyn Day above, the way in which this benefit is delivered creates a lot of hype and recognition for the company, both internally and externally.

2 – Holidays are coming

Richard Branson’s pledge to offer unlimited holiday to all 170 Virgin employees managing his personal fortune grabbed the attention of the media this year.

On the face of it, this sounds like a great benefit for staff, and in the right circumstances it can work (Netflix has operated a non-policy approach to holidays for a while). However, the trouble may come in ensuring staff take enough holiday, rather than they are taking too much.

Taking time away from work protects mental ability and mental health. Unum’s research found that nearly three quarters (73%) of British workers today feel they are expected to always be available for work, and so without a holiday policy in place many may feel they can’t afford the time off to take holiday.

1 – Stop the clock

The biggest benefits story of 2014 was the announcement that both Facebook and Apple are offering to cover the cost of female employees freezing their eggs.

The news provoked a mixed reaction from the media and general public. Some applauded the decision to encourage more women to join and progress through the company, while others saw it as a step too far for a company to get involved in such as personal decision.

Employers should start investing in their staff’s future now by rebalancing their current benefits package to accommodate the needs of the workforce 20-30 years down the line. Being an intuitive employer means understanding employees’ wants and concerns, and then taking action to address them. One way employers can demonstrate they are listening to their staff, is to provide a benefits package that genuinely meets employee needs in a tailored fashion, including long-term benefits like Income Protection.

This countdown of unusual benefits of 2014 shows that it’s not necessarily the value of the benefit that is most important to staff. Instead, employers should take the time to really uncover what benefits will be of most interest to staff, and then building a tailored package for that individual.

Additionally, employers must be more creative at communicating benefits to staff to raise awareness of the benefits on offer and to receive recognition for providing them.





Steff joined the HRreview editorial team in November 2014. A former event coordinator and manager, Steff has spent several years working in online journalism. She is a graduate of Middlessex University with a BA in Television Production and will complete a Master's degree in Journalism from the University of Westminster in the summer of 2015.