Coca-Cola European Partners, the largest bottler of Coca-Cola, is developing cloud-based technology to give its employees the ability to choose flexible reward packages.
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The company plans to give 25,000 employees in 13 countries the option of selecting their own rewards, which might include anything from life insurance to dance lessons, as part of their salary package.
The project, which follows pilot programmes in Sweden and France, will ensure that staff feel happier and are more engaged in their work, said Jean-Pierre Lacroute, Coca-Cola’s director of benefits.
“When you see people who are in a good mood, who are happy around you, it makes you feel happy as well. It creates a better atmosphere for work and makes for better employees,” he said.
Coca-Cola also plans to work with Swedish cloud service Benify to expand the offering by developing a web portal that will take its inspiration from online retailers such as Amazon by recommending benefits employees might like based on the choices of similar employees.
“I want people to be able to go there and shop like they shop at Amazon. I want user reviews, ‘people who looked at this benefit also looked at that benefit’,” said Lacroute.
Web portal delivers flexible benefits
The project began four years ago, after Coca-Cola acquired a bottling company in Sweden, a country where flexible benefits are considered normal business practice.
When Coke realised its flexible benefits programme was lagging behind other Swedish businesses it turned to Benify to create a portal, dubbed Total Reward, that would allow employees to choose rewards from a wide range of options.
“We got great feedback from the employees. It is always a great measure when they come to you spontaneously, and say ‘this is great, this is really good’,” said Lacroute.
One project has made it possible for managers to use the portal to select Christmas gifts and have them delivered to their teams. This had been carried out by the company’s admin assistants in the past.
Coke has also used the portal to set up donation pages to allow employees to contribute to disaster relief organisations following natural disasters. The first donation page was set up within a day of a disaster, and Coca-Cola offered to match donations made by employees.
The French connection
When Benify said it was looking to expand its operations into France, Coca-Cola agreed to be its first customer.
Under French law, Coca-Cola is unable to offer such a wide range of benefits to its employees in France, so the company is using the service primarily as an information source for staff.
It does, however, allow French workers to claim back the cost of travel cards used to get to work. Staff simply fill in their travel details on the portal, which automatically links back to payroll.
Another project will allow Coca-Cola to reimburse workers who cycle to the office. The system will be able to check that the distances claimed are accurate, by comparing the distance travelled to the distance between employees’ homes and their workplace.
Expanding benefits across the company
Lacroute plans to expand the flexible benefits programme across the whole organisation, one country at a time.
The project has been put on hold temporarily, however, following Coca-Cola Enterprise’s merger with Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, which bottles coke in Spain, Portugal and Iceland, and Germany’s Coca-Cola bottling operation in 2015.
The combined company, Coca-Cola European Partners, is working to integrate the three organisations before continuing with the flexible benefits programme.
Lacroute wants to start laying the ground for further development in 2017, with a view to offering flexible benefits in two more countries in two years’ time.
“We have to convince our leadership,” he said. “It’s easier to tell them we are going to do something that is very different from what we did in the past, but we are only going to do it in two countries.”
The UK, where Lacroute’s senior leaders are based, is a likely candidate for the next trial. “I will try to convince them as employees more than as leaders,” added Lacroute. “We want to give them the ability to shape their rewards package. I think they will be pretty responsive to that.”
Matching rewards with employee value
Coca-Cola is looking at ways to match the rewards package to the value that different employees offer to the business.
For example, one option might be to allow people to reduce their base salary levels and take more of their salary in bonus payments for meeting performance targets.
Choose your rewards
The staff rewards offered by Coca-Cola through its online portal include: dance classes; healthcare provision; gym membership; lunch subsidy; cultural activities; yoga; legal advice; company car; and home cleaning services.
But the company does not need to recruit high performers for every role, said Lacroute.
“We all believe we would like to have superstars in the company doing everything, but that is not what we need. We want to make sure we support the important people, and do something for everyone else as well.”
Lacroute said his goal is not to offer benefits that are so attractive that staff do not want to leave, however. “If someone is thinking of moving, he probably has a good reason, and I hope rewards is not the reason he would stay. If someone said, ‘I don’t like my job, but I am going to stay because I have that massive pension plan’, that is a terrible reason to stay.”
Adapting the Swedish technology for France, which has a different rewards culture, posed some early challenges.
The first iteration of the benefits technology did not take into account some of the cultural differences, but that is now being rectified. “We knew we would have [difficulties] because we are the first,” added Lacroute.
Deciding what benefits to offer also provoked some heated debate. For example, the company considered whether it made sense to offer different benefits packages to different groups of employees – millennials, Generation X, Generation Y – but decided it against it, in favour of offering as wide a range of choices as possible.
It is important, said Lacroute, to provide employees not only with a wide range of options, but also with the right guidance to make the right choices. “If you are giving people choices, and you are giving them tools to make those choices and the right information to make them, you will get very good feedback,” he said.
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