With 140 employees spread across seven UK locations, accountancy and business advisory firm Monahans constantly reviews its benefits offering to attract and retain staff.
Sophie Austin joined the company as HR business partner in September 2018, and is responsible for developing and executing the firm’s people strategy. This encompasses culture and engagement, development and talent management, as well as the strategic direction of the HR services offered to clients.
How big is your team?
I am lucky to oversee a dedicated and talented HR team of four, who assist me with all of the areas mentioned above, from staff wellbeing to organisational change, and everything in between.
What benefits are currently offered to your employees?
Too many to list here, and we are constantly reviewing our benefits, based on regular employee feedback. We are focused on building a flexible and attractive benefits package for our colleagues, to ensure we are looking after their wellbeing, and supporting them both personally and professionally
Our benefits platform, MyMonahans, is built around key wellbeing ‘pillars’ – financial, mental, physical – each offering support, guidance and incentives, with something for everyone, and accessibility is made easy through an app.
Our social calendar is important too, whether that’s the annual firm-wide summer and Christmas parties or the regular local events. Through our volunteering policy, we encourage our teams to take time out to support their communities, and also provide support to a number of local charities throughout the year.
How often do you review your benefits offering and why?
While we undertake a formal review annually, we also keep our benefits under review during the year, looking at our colleague feedback through our engagement surveys as well as more generally.
A full annual employee engagement survey and quarterly pulse surveys measure how colleagues are feeling, giving them a voice, promoting continuous improvement and influencing organisational growth, with results benchmarked against the previous year.
Results such as 96% are “treated with respect” and 93% believe their “manager cares about their wellbeing” reflect Monahans’ commitment to supporting and improving the health and wellbeing of its colleagues, integrating all aspects of employee wellbeing so that employees are physically thriving, emotionally balanced, financially secure and socially connected.
How has your offering changed since the Covid-19 pandemic?
We’ve all had to adapt and be more flexible, and we were quick to introduce hybrid working arrangements, which remain in place and are highly valued by our team. In addition to having a very positive effect on colleague engagement, it also supports our commitment to sustainability. We have this year launched our sustainability programme based on a clear ESG framework against which we can benchmark ourselves, with the ultimate aim of improving how we operate as a business, with a focus on our social and environmental impact. Already small measures, such as reducing our use of paper to improve our carbon footprint, have made a difference and continue to heighten awareness in our teams of the importance of building a culture of continuous improvement.
What are your current HR/benefits challenges?
A major challenge lies in attracting – and retaining – exceptional talent to accountancy, and changing the traditional perception of the sector as “numbercrunching” and a back office function. These days are gone! Advancements in technology have forced the sector to modernise, compelling accountants to continually keep pace with changes and developments within the industry, and forcing businesses to consider how they can stay agile and use these changes to their advantage.
Meanwhile, the role of an accountant has evolved to a more business advisory function, with organisations recognising the importance of critical thinkers who can drive value in terms of improving business efficiencies and growth. This is driving change in the skills and experiences that finance professionals need, which in turn is forcing a rethink in training and development. Much of our focus is therefore on how we create the advisers of the future, very much client focussed, with the ability to use data in a different way, to provide real value to businesses.
Ensuring our benefits are flexible and meet the needs of changing demands of those entering the workforce now – not just financial – is really key.
How is your organisation supporting employees with the cost-of-living crisis?
We have focussed our strategy on making smart adjustments that will make a big difference, rather than through cash alone as this simply isn’t sustainable. Indeed, we have found that much of the support needed at the moment falls outside of purely financial, rather the onus is on ensuring that employees are supported emotionally. Financial stress can severely impact our mental health, so the provision of financial advisory support, tailored occupational health and counselling services, for example, has been important for us. Otherwise, we have been helping many of our clients implement wellness action plans, that can be put in place on an individual basis if a colleague is experiencing negative emotions.
What are the main challenges for HR/benefits departments today in general?
Talent attraction and retention is emerging as the biggest challenge for many, especially in a candidate-driven market, as we’re seeing at the moment. We – and indeed all businesses – need to be conscious of providing the broadest and most flexible benefits to appeal to all employees – not just cash – while keeping an eye on the future of work and thinking creatively about opportunities. Companies that are able to stick rigidly to their values will also stand out from the crowd.
Is there anything the Government could do that would help?
In addition to trying to manage escalating inflation and its impact on pricing (food, utilities, etc), increasing the provision in childcare would be beneficial. Education is key, too, for example, if hybrid working is here to stay – which it likely is – we should be doing more to promote initiatives that allow employees to save on the costs of fuel or travel, for example car sharing. And for many the cost differential of holidaying in peak periods is prohibitive. I’d like to see the Government intervene here.
What do you foresee will be the hot topics for HR this year/in the future?
As well as attracting and retaining talent, AI and sustainability are likely to be the hot topics. AI in terms of how it can streamline HR processes – for example enhancing hiring efficiency – but also the ethics of this and topics such as bias in training data; and sustainability as an organisational priority and the change in mindset (cultural) that’s required to make a real impact.
How do you ensure employees know about the available benefits?
Much of my team’s recent work has been focused on improving our communications processes and the surveys mentioned above have facilitated firm-wide changes based on feedback. Recent employee-led initiatives include the implementation of a new intranet and an employee forum, which provides employees with the opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions that will positively influence their working environment and ways of working.
What’s the best employee benefit you’ve ever had and why?
Different ones at different times, since our needs change at different stages of our careers – sorry if that’s sitting on the fence! At the moment, more generally speaking, healthcare options are likely to be popular given the difficulties in the healthcare sector, with shortages of GPs and NHS dentists.
If you had an unlimited budget, what employee benefit(s) would you like to introduce for employees?
An increase in employer pension contributions.