Go to work and put your feet up

Sleep modules and yoga are two of the flexible perks now on offer to staff
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The Independent Online

It's Monday morning and time to get up. But you're tired from a busy weekend and all you want is to curl up under the covers until lunch-time. The good news is that in some companies, you can.

It's Monday morning and time to get up. But you're tired from a busy weekend and all you want is to curl up under the covers until lunch-time. The good news is that in some companies, you can.

Take PR consultancy Text 100, which offers "duvet days". Employees can take two extra days off a year when they can't bring themselves to get up. Similarly, advertising agency Grey London offers Friday afternoons off in the summer.

In other companies - particularly in the US, where flexible, tailored benefit packages are more widespread - indulgences for staff include supermarket vouchers, desk massages, sleep modules, in-house yoga and even discounts with dating agencies. It is all part of a sea-change in the way companies view their staff and reward them.

TBWA, the London ad agency, offers duvet days plus an in-house bar with free drinks two nights a week. There's a pool table and two Sony PlayStation pods with the latest games. People take breaks when they feel like it.

Johnny Hornby, joint managing director, explains that the main currency in advertising is people. "Ideas come from talking and sharing, so we try and make it as nice a place as possible. People might come up with a blinding idea at home or over a pint, when they're relaxed and in a good mood." Everyone works in small teams and duvet days are only taken when someone's absence is not going to affect colleagues. "There's a lot of operating on trust," says Mr Hornby, and TBWA gets a big return on its generosity. "People work very, very hard."

While you would be unlikely to find a Playstation in, say, a City law firm, a survey by consultants Arthur Andersen shows that the trend for a more flexible approach to benefits is gaining ground even in conservative companies. Employees are offered a cafeteria-style menu of options, which includes the usual pension and life assurance plus perks like health care, gym membership and even pet insurance.

The Flex Forum, an online survey, says the number of flexible reward schemes among its respondents has grown from 12 per cent in 1998 to 20 per cent in 2000. Surprisingly, however, it has also found that employees do not always take advantage of this flexibility.

One of the reasons may be "employee confusion" over benefits packages, says the research. Bridget Hogg, a business psychologist, says com- panies need to ensure the choices are properly communicated to staff. Once understood, she adds, flexible benefits are a powerful incentive to stay with an employer and can be a deciding factor in choosing one job over another.

So why aren't more companies getting involved? Mike Stanley, managing partner in human capital practice at Arthur Andersen UK, explains: "There are so many items on the agenda for companies at the moment. They are having to prioritise what to do next in response to the 'new economy'. But in 18 months to two years, he adds, companies will have to work much harder to attract and retain their staff. "The baby boom is in the past and that means there will be fewer people being chased by the major employers. It will be a battle for brain power."

Cost is also a factor. "Flexible benefit packages can be more expensive to administer," says Nick Page, adviser on pay and employment conditions at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. "But as computer packages become more sophisticated, more companies are getting involved as admin costs fall."

Advanced Benefits, recently launched by Oracle, is a computer program that can be tailored to different requirements at the touch of a button. A spokeswoman says points can be split over a range of benefits like extra holiday time and childcare vouchers. A non-driver could cash in points on a company car.

Clearly, firms are waking up to the need to offer a better balance between life and work. Law firm Mischon de Reya experimented with a company poet, while others offer in-house massages and yoga.

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