Rosemary Crabb decided to specialise in flexible benefits after a short secondment in the reward area at Nationwide Building Society.
The secondment followed a four-year stint with an absence management team at the building society.
“Back in 2004, [the flex team was] looking at migrating [benefits] online, whereas previously enrolment for flex had been paper- and brochure- based,” says Crabb.
“They were actually integrating the rewards platform, and I was aware they were doing this and it was something I wanted to get involved in, so I asked if I could go on a secondment. I originally went on a secondment for a year, and have stayed ever since.”
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Nationwide launched its flex scheme with four benefits in 1998, and has since expanded this to about 30 benefits.
Crabb has managed flexible benefits for the mutual since 2006, but it was only in 2008, when the organisation divided its reward and flexible benefits teams, that flex became a standalone entity.
Crabb’s role has been made easier by Nationwide’s recognition of the significant part that benefits and total reward play in attracting, engaging and retaining high-calibre employees.
“Our imperative is to recognise and reward the contribution our employees make to the success of our business and the service we provide to our customers,” she says.
“Through the flexible benefits scheme, we can tangibly reward our employees, enable them to help shape their remuneration package and add genuine value to their pay.”
Crabb believes flex schemes are gaining popularity and are no longer solely the preserve of the financial services and blue-chip organisations from which they originated.
“Employees in all types of organisations and industries now rightly expect to have some say in how their pay and benefits are shaped, and employers that do not respond to this find themselves at a disadvantage when trying to attract high-calibre candidates,” she says.
“Today, flexible benefits are seen by both employers and employees as a viable way of adding real value to pay and not a ‘nice to have’.”
Clear communication is key to a scheme’s success, says Crabb. “Employers should never assume that a good [flex] portfolio will sell itself. They should spread the word [to employees] through a variety of channels to ensure it reaches everyone and brings the savings to life,” she adds.
Crabb advises HR and benefits professionals who want to implement flex to begin with a scheme that is easy to manage and can be built upon. “Schemes do not have to start out with large numbers of benefits,” she says. “Employers should start with a manageable number and grow this over time to build the range of benefits that is right for their organisation’s employees and budget.”
What are your positive attributes and what would you improve?
I work hard and enjoy a challenge. I like to find solutions to problems, put ideas into practice and it is important to deliver on the promise. I like to think I’m in a constant state of improvement, always learning and developing my skills.
Do you read management books? If so, which would you recommend?
It is important to keep abreast of what’s going on in the marketplace and how the role of employee benefits is evolving, but I tend to do my research through the trade magazines, talking to providers and benchmarking, rather than through management books.
What is your favourite benefit?
It has to be discounted shopping vouchers and cards. Everybody buys food and everybody shops, so employees should take advantage of the discounts that are available. From the employer’s point of view, they are relatively easy to introduce and have wide appeal. From the employee’s point of view, the savings are obvious, tangible and very welcome.
What is your ambition/career goal?
To continue working in this field. It’s amazingly diverse, challenging and complex and one of the few roles in HR where the positive effect on employees’ pay and benefits package, and the positive effect on the organisation’s bottom line, are quantifiable. We have a role to play in the attraction, recruitment, engagement and retention of employees and in support of the employer’s brand and employee proposition. Nothing stands still in this field, and there are always opportunities to try new ideas.
1996-present Nationwide Building Society. Currently senior manager, flexible benefits. Previous roles at Nationwide include: flexible benefits manager, rewards analyst/consultant, occupational health and safety adviser, pensions welfare officer, HR systems analyst, personnel and development generalist
1993-1996 long-term HR assignments with various employers
1975-1980 staff manager, British Home Stores
1974-1975 assistant branch manager, Reed Employment
1972-1974 personnel officer, National Westminster Bank