How can employee benefits help SMEs compete for talent?

A group fo young workers have a conversation in a hallway

According to SME employers last year, finding the right talent for their business was an even greater challenge than growing profits or increasing productivity. With Brexit uncertainty making a talent shortage more likely in the coming years, the challenge is probably going to grow. So what can SME business owners do to attract the skilled people they need?


The recruitment and retention of talent can be challenging for smaller companies, who are competing against larger organisations offering higher salaries, better career opportunities and impressive perks.

Last year, research found that employers with between 50 and 300 staff claimed that attracting talent is a bigger challenge than growing profits or improving productivity. Their only bigger concern was uncertainty over Brexit and its likely impact on recruitment.

With a Recruitment Industry Trends Report 2017/18 highlighting that the next two years could reduce the number of candidates for roles and heighten skills shortages depending on the final Brexit agreement, what can SME business owners do to attract the talent and resources they need?


Understand job-seekers' motivations

Increasingly, we are finding that if companies want to attract the best talent, they need to offer the best employee benefits. 

A survey of 2000 employees from build-to-rent organisation Get Living found that almost half of employees (48%) would leave their current job for one with better perks, while 7% are willing to take a pay cut in order to receive a better benefits package. A third (32%) would like a more attractive benefits offering and stated that they are actively looking for a new job.

This trend is supported by Glassdoor’s 2017 employee benefits guide, which reported that 57% of candidates reported that perks and benefits are among their top considerations when accepting a job. 

Employee benefits are clearly playing a more important role in recruitment and retention, and offering a valuable opportunity for companies to build their brand and influence their culture and productivity. It is unsurprising therefore that many SME business owners are already planning to expand their range of employee benefits.

Six out of 10 SME senior managers claimed they would increase the benefits on offer within the next two years. One in four of those running SMEs (24%) plan to significantly increase their employee benefits packages

But where should they start?

Deciding what benefits to offer

Get Living found that approximately three-quarters (73%) of employees want a more tailored benefits package, so the first step for employers is to uncover what kind of benefits people want and would value. 

Some employees may favour wellbeing benefits such as Private Medical Insurance (PMI), mental health programmes and virtual GP services - which can be highly influential in attracting and retaining talent. Others may prefer flexible working, an enhanced pension or a free gym membership.  No company is the same and the benefits should reflect this.

The key to a successful employee benefits programme is for companies to not make assumptions about what employees need, but to canvas opinion and examine data to understand what benefits are currently being used and what employees would most value. 

The age, size and demographics of the workforce all need to be taken into consideration, as well as the budget. But employee benefits don’t need to cost the earth.


Build a package that suits your staff and budget

In an increasingly competitive market, many employers are surprised at how affordable benefits provision can be. For example, Life Assurance is often the cornerstone in building a good employee benefits package because of its affordability and widespread employee appreciation.

And Employee Assistance Programmes, which provide confidential 24-hour information, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues, are often free with income protection policies or highly affordable if purchased separately. 

PMI and cash plans are becoming increasingly popular healthcare benefits because they enable employees to get medical advice and treatment more quickly, which can, in turn, reduce employee absenteeism and help promote a healthy workforce. 

Group employee protection schemes such as life assurance; income protection and critical illness cover are also often highly valued by employees and their families and can put SMEs on a level with large employers who offer cover as a matter of course.

SMEs also tend to have loyal, close-knit workforces and can feel honour-bound to pay uninsured long-term absent employees indefinitely which they have to manage themselves. A group income protection scheme can provide employees with valuable income protection, whilst the business benefits from valuable cost control and claims management support.

Designing a contemporary benefits programme is a great opportunity for companies to build their brand and influence their culture and productivity. It helps attract and retain talent and can ensure SMEs are able to compete with larger organisations. 

Speak to a member of the Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing team to find out how you can build a benefits package that’s right for your individual business, workforce and budget.


Mark Fosh Howden Broker headhshot

Mark Fosh

Mark has 20 years’ experience of helping clients attract and retain the right talent. He and his team develop benefits programmes to suit their clients’ needs, helping clients to bring their employment strategies to life.

Contact Mark's team