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Vocus Communications, a leading telecommunications company, was undertaking a merger that would scale its Australian workforce from 200 to 2,000 people, becoming Vocus Group and the 4th largest Telco in Australia as a result.Some staff received free gym membership, some a reimbursement of health-related purchases, and the majority of staff received nothing. They felt giving all 2,000 people a free gym membership was not only cost-prohibitive, but wouldn’t respect individual choices and preferences enough.

What if some people wanted home fitness equipment, or maybe money for a class or a mindfulness course instead? How could they develop a wellbeing benefit that would give each employee genuine freedom and choice to fund whatever wellbeing meant to them?

And how could it be done to show trust in the newly formed company, and minimize process and procedure for the new HR team?

The situation provided the perfect opportunity for the newly merged HR team to work together and create a wellbeing benefit that would meet the needs of the entire new workforce. And at the same time, it would reinforce their newly rolled out, and very quirky, four company values.


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The Play

The solution to the company’s wellbeing confusion was to create a wellbeing gift card to be given to every employee. Each year the card is loaded with $299 (just under the Australian tax threshold of $300), which employees can spend however and whenever they decide it’s right for them. Essentially, it’s free money.

You might think, won’t employees spend it on things that are not wellbeing-related? According to Denise Hanlon, Head of Human Resources, the answer is  a resounding "no.” And that’s because this program, and all HR programs, are based around its value of “Clever Company, No Muppets.” Since there are no muppets at Vocus, everything is created for “awesome people,” ones who are trusted to do the right thing for the company and for themselves.

This means no approvals are required, no receipts need to be submitted, it’s 100% built on trust.

Had they put in a restrictive wellbeing benefit it wouldn’t have matched the culture of the new organization, and wouldn’t have been successful.

While wellbeing remains a challenge in such a fast-growing and maturing organization like Vocus, indications are that initiatives like this are helping – with Vocus’ score in wellbeing growing from 5.4 to 6.0 over the last six months.


In Practice

  • Keep in mind that wellbeing is different for everyone, so find ways to put freedom and choice into your wellbeing benefit so they can personalize it for themselves.
  • Find ways to build a sense of trust into how you create and manage your HR programs. They can send a strong message to your workforce about how you treat and feel about them.
Find more plays like this one in "The Rebel Playbook" 

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