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Company cars, pensions, health and share schemes and even gym membership are increasingly part of employment packages. But do employees understand their value or, for that matter, want them?

Employers could be wasting billions of pounds providing non-salary benefits that employees do not understand the value of.

So claims employee benefits consultant PIFC Consulting, whose recent survey of 9,000 UK firms suggested that although 90% of employers believe non-salary benefits are crucial to attract and retain staff, up to 40% of employees neither appreciate the benefits nor know their monetary value.

'There's empirical and anecdotal evidence that employees, unless they go through a formal induction process, simply aren't aware of the benefits their company is providing, ' says Jonathan Sandford, PIFC Consulting's director of marketing and research.And too often they only become aware of such benefits as healthcare or life assurance 'at the point of consumption' he adds.'I would say that 25% to 35% of employees don't know all of the benefits their company is paying for - benefits that they're entitled to.'

The view shared by many recruitment consultants in the civil engineering and geotechnics sector, however, is that the candidates they see are generally 'benefit savvy' especially when it comes to company cars and flexible schemes that allow vehicles to be upgraded or downgraded, or holidays to be traded for cash.

The PIFC Consulting survey uncovered evidence of a general move towards flexible employee benefits, with 65% of respondents - representing all industry sectors - preferring packages where employees could exercise choice.

A geotechnical engineer in his late 30s, who didn't want to be named, says that while the value of the benefits he receives - including a company car, employer's pension contribution scheme, health and share schemes, gym membership and life assurance - add up to nearly 30% of the value of his salary, he would prefer instead to receive more money. 'At my stage in life, with a young family to provide for, I need the cash in my pocket, ' he says, 'and non-salary benefits, I reckon, aren't worth as much as employers would have us believe. I don't need a brand new car.'

Bachy Soletanche offers a fairly comprehensive and generous non-salary benefits scheme, says business development manager Chris Thomas. This includes private healthcare, a flexible company car scheme and a pension scheme in which the company contributes 10% of the salaries of employees over 40.

Thomas believes that his employees' appreciation of non-salary benefits is very much age related. 'Under-30s don't regard pension schemes as being as exciting or as important as a company car, ' he adds.

With fierce competition for high calibre staff in a tight labour market, there is evidently a growing need to ensure that when businesses spend money on benefits they're relevant to employees' needs - and properly appreciated by them.

'We always try and get firms to consider providing their staff with a total reward statement (TRS) spelling out what benefits an employee is eligible to receive, ' says Sandford. A growing number of companies, he adds, are now quoting the wholesale and retail rate of what they offer in terms of benefits - the latter showing what it would cost an individual to buy in the benefits offered as part of their employment package.

A logical extension of this, he asserts, is stating 'here's what we offer, and here are the benefits relevant to you, as an individual' 'It is crucial now that flexible benefit schemes take in an individual's age and circumstances - marital status, for example - right through to avoiding double cover on healthcare schemes, should a partner already have private medical scheme covering the whole family.'

Not so long ago, Sandford asserts, flexible benefits were very expensive for employers and generally had to be bespoke. 'However, technology has evolved to the extent that the provision of flexible nonsalary benefit schemes is now affordable for most employers, even those running small and medium-sized companies.

Who's really the boss?

Feeling like a powerless wage slave? The Mindgym, an organisation which claims to help people use their minds more effectively, offers five ways to help get your boss to work for you:

Ask for feedback on your performance. By making your boss articulate what he or she thinks you do well will help them appreciate what you do. Embracing any suggestions that they make for improvement will show that you are keen to learn.

Tell your boss what he or she does that helps you.This encourages them to repeat constructive behaviour - as positive feedback has a much stronger correlation with changes in behaviour than criticism - and puts you in the traditional boss role.

Share credit for your achievements with your boss, as it shows a confidence and generosity normally associated with the person in the senior role.

Keep close to the rest of the team. Your boss will want to be informed who is doing what, and the rest of the team will want a colleague who takes an interest, especially if you're the one who is really in charge.

If you are asked to do more than is reasonable, explain the consequences and suggest alternatives rather than meekly agreeing or refusing point blank.

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