Bringing together two or more organisations is a demanding experience. Owain Thomas discovers how Places for People is using workplace benefits to smooth the transition.
- Growing a group with multiple acquisitions needs careful and clear employee communication and engagement
- Continuing to offer existing benefits while adding ones from the new parent company can help engage staff
- Being aware of corporate cultural differences can prevent conflict and disengagement
Places for People had 18 different organisations within its group at the time of writing - although at the rate it has been expanding there could be a couple more by the time you read this.
In the last three years alone it acquired five firms.
The property and leisure management and re-development company is one of the largest of its kind in the UK, owning or managing 148,000 homes.
Its 11,500 strong workforce stretches from Scotland to Eastbourne and encompasses a wide range of employees largely based on-site providing services and support to the communities it manages.
So how do you bring that many companies together in such a short period of time?
As engagement and wellbeing adviser Liz Sharrocks explains, communication is critical and workplace benefits can be a key tool.
"When people join the organisation they've been on very different terms and conditions and ours are seen as quite favourable. So what we've done is talked with some of our new companies about how we can integrate their benefits and also offer them some of our benefits as well," she says.
That range of benefits is a quite substantial one. It includes interest free loans, cycle to work scheme, computers through salary sacrifice, season ticket loans, eyecare vouchers, an employee assistance programme and high street discount vouchers.
"Quite recently we've been working with our suppliers to give discounts to all our employees too," Sharrocks adds.
One of the most important things for Sharrocks is to welcome new employees into the organisation and allow them to understand they are valued.
"We're keen not to make them feel like we are taking over. There's nothing more disengaging and upsetting to people than losing their identity because their identity is very important to them," she explains.
"So we get involved in conversations with people as soon as we can because there's a lot that we can learn from these companies."
One of the ways Places for People welcomes staff is by integrating benefits relating to the newly merged companies.
So for example, the acquisition of DC Leisure (now renamed Places for People Leisure) saw an additional 6,500 staff join the group - roughly doubling the workforce.
Through this new partner Places for People is now able to offer discounted or free membership to the gyms for all its employees.
"It fits with our ethos of community building and our wellbeing strategy," continues Sharrocks.
"What we've done is work with Places for People Leisure to find some of the benefits they can adopt that they didn't have before. Some of this included discounts to central heating boilers and radiators, the Medicash and Denplan cash plans, high street vouchers, childcare vouchers and the cycle to work scheme.
As would be expected that does not work for every company brought into the fold, but a general pattern can help to give a structure to such situations.
With a range of commercial and charity businesses within the group, the open, communicative approach gives Places for People the chance to see how its core benefits package can be best adapted.
"What we have to do is just talk to the companies and see what will work for them, because sometimes what will work for us won't work for them," says Sharrocks.
"We also have to look at the financial capacity of the new organisation to be able to take it on board. For example they all have different sick pay and allowances - but as we're very moral as an organisation and care about our people, we want to make it fit as much as possible.
"Even though they are different companies they all fit under same umbrella and it could still have the potential to disengage people. The things that are easy to do we work on straight away but some do take longer to implement," she adds.
Getting the communication right is also a key factor with the intention to have a drip, drip effect to keep reminding employees of the benefits available, rather than a big bang approach with little after.
Technology is a key enabler of this method. Almost everyone has access to a computer, tablet or smartphone and they can access emails from outside the company intranet.
When people join the organisation they get a starter pack which identifies the benefits portal and they are also given details to log-on as part of the induction check.
The intranet site, personal reward statements, annual direct mail shots to home addresses and a monthly managers' newsletter all communicate the benefits available.
The key question of course, is what are the results?
Sharrocks' role is focused on talking to people within the group, rather than collecting statistics, but the anecdotal reaction has been an improvement on retention.
"People are telling me ‘I don't want to leave here because the benefits are much better than my partner or children get,'" she says.
"We did total reward statements for the first time last year and the feedback was ‘wow I didn't realise that's what I got or that this is available to me'."
And according to the organisation's latest employee survey conducted last year, 90% of employees said they valued the benefits package provided.
"I think this is a great indicator of how well we communicate our benefits. We consider it to be money down the drain if we don't remind people of our benefits.
"For me it's an engagement product. Benefits are one of those things that engage people in an organisation and unless you highlight them you're not getting the full value out of them," Sharrocks concludes.