Steve’s Blog: The proof is in the (Christmas) pudding

A few seasonal reminders for HR professionals (including some classic Christmas film quotes of course), from our favourite monthly blogger, Steve Herbert

There is a scene in that festive favourite film Elf that I really like.

Buddy, the oversized elf hero of the movie, is sitting in a seedy café with his date.  He asks her to shut her eyes and then identify the drink he has just purchased for her.

Her response of “it’s a crappy cup of coffee” leaves him crestfallen.  The reason for his disillusionment is that a sign hangs on the wall boldly declaring “World’s Best Coffee Served Here”.

Now what, you may well ask, has that got to do with Human Resources, or indeed Employee Benefits?  Well, not a lot to be truthful, but it’s a useful seasonal link to remind HR professionals of some important themes from my Employer News posts over the last 12 months.   So let’s revisit three items that I believe are of genuine importance to employers this Christmas and for the year ahead.

The World’s Best?

The first point, as I covered in my Words and Deeds article on workplace mental health earlier this year, is the need for employers to live up to their own hype.

Over the years I have met numerous organisations who claim that their Employee Benefits offerings are unique and/or market leading.  Yet often these claims unravel when employees with a more worldly approach than Buddy-the-Elf recognise that the benefits on offer fall far short of their original promise.  It’s the Employee Benefits and Wellbeing equivalent of the “crappy cup of coffee”, and likewise leaves a rather bitter and unpleasant aftertaste.  This is clearly something that every good employer would want to avoid.

So try to ensure that your Employee Benefits offering is just as relevant and useful as is possible within your given budget.  It’s also good practice to allow for the often overlooked but important costs of good messaging and promotion to employees too.

A ghostly little tale

Another area you would expect me to look at is employee debt and finance issues.

Let’s face it Christmas is expensive, and the invention of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has only resulted in many more people spending their November pay packet even earlier in the monthly pay-cycle than used to be the case.

The practical upshot of this is that many employees will inevitably find themselves in debt even before they receive their end of December pay, and often with Christmas and New Year expenditure yet to be funded.  The early December pay date also means that some workers will face an uncomfortable 6 week wait until the end of January payday is eventually reached.

This is frankly worrying for a nation already deeply in financial debt, and is a topic I covered in my Night Terrors article back in the summer.  Employers would do well to offer all the support they can to help employees avoid ending up in a vicious spiral of high interest loans and unsustainable repayments.

So I would like to encourage employers of all sizes and in all sectors to offer and promote Workplace Financial Education combined with the important addition of Workplace Finance tools.  These useful and often under-promoted benefits can act as a partial-panacea to some of the seasonal fiscal pain that your employees may very soon be experiencing.

Overdone the festivities?

And even if you avoid financial stresses of the festive season, it’s likely that prolonged exposure to far too much unhealthy food and drink – or indeed the family – could well leave many workers with an urgent need for a medical appointment with the family Doctor.

Yet, as I covered in The Wait for the Waiting Room article earlier this year, obtaining a General Practitioner (GP) appointment at any time is already a real challenge for many workers.  And of course at this time of year it becomes even more difficult.  After all GP’s and surgery staff need time off at Christmas too, so when they do open the doors to patients again the backlog of urgent and non-urgent cases means delays in seeing a qualified doctor are all but inevitable.

So ensure that your employees have access to – and are fully aware of – any remote GP access offerings that are available via the Employee Benefits package to support them.  This will help the employees and their families obtain diagnosis and treatment quickly, whilst also minimising employee absence too.

If you don’t already have a remote GP offering in place then there is still time to implement one for the festive season.  Cost may not be a barrier here, as such offerings can be purchased for as little as £1 per employee, per month, or are sometimes offered free alongside other employer-sponsored benefits.

A Christmas Wish

So to conclude my posts for 2019…


The above are all important issues for any organisation which is serious about looking after the interests of their workforce, and I would hope are on every Human Resources’ Christmas & New Year wish list.

But to return to the opening of this article, the success of any approach is about providing a package that is every bit as good as the claims the employer seeks to make, and which is recognised as such by the workers that utilise the offering.  After all, employees can only really judge and appreciate the quality of the Employee Benefits offering and support by actually experiencing it in practice.

As the mysterious hobo in The Polar Express says to the doubting boy on his way to see Father Christmas – “Seeing is believing”.   It’s as true of a quality benefits offering as it is the magic of Santa.

A very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you all.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing