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The Nanny Employer

8 July, 2022

Gone are the days when a monthly pay cheque was the only exchange between employer and employee. Whether its holiday allowance, gym memberships, hot yoga sessions or other wacky and wonderful perks and benefits, companies are recognising the impact they have on the personal lives of their employees.

Employers are increasingly attending to the wellbeing of their staff, particularly mental health and wellbeing wherever possible. And for many, this is a welcome addition, with many wanting more attention and care regarding these important and often sensitive issues.

But a recent article in the Financial Times poses the question of whether it all gone too far, and whether we are living in what it terms a “nanny employer” state?

It argues that the level of influence on people’s lives (whether explicit or implicit) that is embedded in some of these so-called perks mirrors Orwellian control. It quotes one company which had gone all in, offering a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer’s market share, and continuing education allowances, but has recently done a complete volte face, as they felt they were getting “too deep into nudging people’s individual choices”. Instead, they opted to bump up employee pay and allow them to spend it on whatever they wanted.

Then there’s also the fact that for all the noise about companies making mental health a top priority, rates of employee burnout and distress remain high.

So do all of these benefits actually make a difference?

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Additional perks and benefits shouldn’t be used to mask or compensate for unnecessary professional stresses; all the free yoga lessons in the world won’t help to correct situations in which employees are over worked and under remunerated. It’s also clear that some people want work to be more of a transaction, that doesn’t blur the lines of personal and work life.

But we’d also be cautious of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The relationship employers have with their employees should be an evolving and live one, that responds to the way times and needs are changing. And having a progressive and thoughtful optional benefits package can be a great way of demonstrating a desire to move forward, and to signal respect and value.

As is often the case, engagement with employees is key. Have a discussion to find out what additional benefits employees would truly value – demonstrating that the company isn’t trying to be paternalistic in the process. Listening and responding, not dictating and directing, means companies can show they care without turning into anyone’s nanny.

By Budd Nicholson

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