Staff welfare at local SMEs: What’s the deal?

How do local SMEs fare when it comes to providing employee benefits? Is it true that SME employees are getting the short end of the stick as compared to their counterparts in MNCs?

Patty, a director of Corporate Communications and Human Resource at a local accounting firm, says that – contrary to popular belief – not all SMEs are penny pinchers. Well, at least not the organisation she works at. She stresses that providing welfare for employees is imperative because happy workers equal higher productivity and output, and in the long run result in lower staff churn.

One of Patty’s responsibilities is to uplift team morale through regular activities. As a weekly affair, the office has a ‘fitness day’ to encourage staff to work out and stay healthy. Staff can officially end the work day 45 minutes earlier to join a mass walk with colleagues or head off to pursue their own exercise regime. Every other month, the more than 40 employees are treated to a team lunch; and every quarter, the firm organises a local excursion or teambuilding activities. Every year, the company splurges on an all-expense paid staff retreat to a destination in the region (the most recent trip being Chiangmai, Thailand). And to encourage family bonding, employees can bring their spouses and children along, and the firm pays half of the expenses for one of the family members.

Patty notes that while her firm is more generous than other SMEs in providing staff benefits, more can be done to match up to the standards of MNCs in providing staff benefits, which she said is a gradual process.

Says Patty: “We want to keep our employees happy. At the moment, we’ll keep doing what we do as it’s proven to be effective in maintaining low staff churn in comparison with the rest of the industry. As we build our business and become more profitable, we can look at offering more to our staff in the future.”

For Margaret, a CEO of a family-run manufacturing business with 120 employees, many of her staff have stuck with her company for many years because she believes that “relationships rank highest”. While her company does not offer any fancy benefits like free holidays or birthday celebrations, she notes that she does not put any caps on medical claims by staff, and if her permanent, full-time employees are in any financial difficulties, they can approach her for help. Being a traditional Chinese company, Margaret says that she shuts down operations for the entire week during Chinese New Year, and throws a massive buffet and party for her staff, in addition to handing out ang pows.

Margaret says that she is now focusing on her foreign employees who are here on work permits. While the company has provided them with dormitories and also built a kitchen for them to cook their local food fare, Margaret wants to do more to help them.

“We’re looking into giving them food vouchers and necessities like rice to help them cope with rising costs of living so that they can save more money for themselves and their families back home,” she adds.

Everybody’s doing it… so can SMEs!

In one way or another, SME employers are recognising the importance to go above and beyond to provide staff with a holistic set of benefits. More than ever before, and especially in a tightening job market where the power is shifting to the employees, staff benefits has become one of the key differentiators in hiring, and even more so for retention of precious talent. But in reality, it would be too demanding on an SME, especially the smaller enterprises, to offer corporate-style benefits.

To help SMEs be more competitive in offering staff benefits, Singapore startup Rewardz is enabling these smaller outfits to engage and reward their employees more comprehensively through a subscription model that gets better with economies of scale. Companies that are enrolled in the Rewardz programme pay as low as $3 a month per employee for them to enjoy basic benefits. This includes medical benefits, gym memberships and lifestyle rewards and discounts that have been pre-negotiated by Rewardz. For an additional monthly subscription fee, employees can get more perks including special rates on travel, group insurance and external training. It’s almost like the famous discount site Groupon – but for businesses only.

While SMEs may not be able to go wild like Google which provides staff a whole host of benefits including free on-site massage and karaoke facilities, it’s never too little to give to employees within the means of the business, and increase accordingly as the business gets bigger and better. That was how Google did it, having been based in a garage in California in 1998 when it was first incorporated, and over the years having maintained its focus on rewarding its people towards becoming one of Fortune magazine’s Global 500 most profitable companies in the world and the Number One on the list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Surely, that’s something to be inspired by, isn’t it? Check out this video and take a leaf out of Google’s playbook!

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