As an employer introduces ‘period breaks’ for employees, is it time for employers to rethink the benefits they offer?

Written on 4 Mar 2016

An employer, Coexist, has hit the headlines this week after introducing a ‘period policy’ for its female employees, enabling them to take menstrual leave without having to make excuses or produce a sick note (see here). Whilst such an initiative may be regarded as one employer’s attempt to ‘move with the times’, as today’s workplace continues to evolve employers being innovative with what may be seen as ‘alternative’ benefits is likely to take on increasing importance.

The challenge of retaining talented staff

Employers already face challenges in recruiting and retaining staff. Recent research by Deloitte (see here) has indicated that “millennials” are particularly prone to ‘itchy feet’, with only 16% of respondents indicating that they would expect to remain with their current employer in 10 years’ time. Such statistics can be rather startling for employers, who may have a cultural or generational expectation that employees will stay with them for the long haul. As well as the obvious loss of a skilled employee, there can be a range of expenses associated with rapid staff turnover, including the costs of selecting and recruiting a replacement, covering the employee during the interim period, reductions in employee morale and productivity and the loss of training and investment in the former employee. As employers grapple to make their workplace as attractive as possible to beat off the competition, these alternative benefits may well become the new norm in years to come.

Innovations in benefits packages

Indeed, whilst Coexist’s period policy might at first glance appear to be a relatively innovative offering, employers are increasingly recognising the advantages of providing enhanced (and often unusual) benefits packages. Whilst these initiatives have often been associated with Silicon Valley tech giants such as Facebook and Google, UK businesses across a range of sectors, now appear to be developing differentiated employment benefits, such as:

  • Domestic and General – free flu jabs and mindfulness colouring books.
  • UKFast – use of a recording studio.
  • Expedia – free monthly breakfasts.
  • Attenda – movie nights, go-karting and indoor surfing.
  • Richer Sounds – access to holiday homes and use of the company Bentley. 

A more female-friendly workplace?

Such measures can also be viewed against the backdrop of the much broader government push towards a more female friendly workplace. With the imminent introduction of the gender pay reporting obligations (see here), combined with a host of ‘family friendly’ schemes, including tax free childcare and the prospect of extending shared parental leave to grandparents, we may well now see more employers considering whether to reflect this gender balancing exercise when updating the benefits packages that they offer to their employees.

Trialling new benefits is a sensible move

However, as employers become more creative with the employee benefits on offer, they would be sensible to listen to their employees to ensure that what they offer is providing the employee engagement they are looking for – and that they continue to keep these packages under regular review.

In offering new or different benefits, particularly those that are untested in the workplace, consideration should perhaps be given to making these subject to a trial period and it should be stated clearly that they do not form part of the employment contract.

Where packages are more targeted to female employees, it is particularly important that such schemes are carefully managed, in order to minimise the risk of employee relations issues and potentially discrimination claims by, for example, male employees who consider that their gender should not prevent them from being provided with equivalent benefits. Manager training will also be critical to managing these issues.