Employee benefits should be like mix tapes

Gareth Davies, 29 September 2015

They should!! Mix tapes may be a thing of the past, but for anyone over the age of 30 and who was really into their music, they were a thing of beauty.

When CDs came along, tape cassettes knew their time was up. CDs and iTunes brought the death of the true mix tape and it’s actually hard to even play cassettes now (although my Mum’s car suggests otherwise).

The key to a good mix tape was the way it’s personal. Growing up I made mix tapes for just a handful of friends and my then girlfriend. I wanted to introduce my friends to something new that they hadn’t heard, but what I thought they’d like. Deep down, I also wanted them to think that not only was I thoughtful, but also that I was pretty cool based on the songs I’d included. I was putting myself on the line there.

Designing benefit schemes for employees is similar in concept to putting a mix tape together. Perhaps a little easier, but only just. You want to provide your audience (employee / listener) with something that is relevant to them, will be useful and appreciated. You’re looking to curate the best deals and provide benefits that they themselves may not be able to get on the open market.

Personalisation is easy for a mix tape in the sense that you are only making one tape for one person (although let me emphasise that these are labours of love). It is a little harder for a Benefits Director or HR Manager to cater for 5,000 employees, as each individual will have different needs and wants depending on their particular situation. Ideally, what you really need to do is make 5,000 mix tapes, but, in reality this is impractical.

It’s ultimately about giving something to people that they want and appreciate.

This is where market research and data is of real use when designing a benefit strategy. Before you run off to your bedroom to record your mixtape, undoubtedly you go in with some prior knowledge of your friend’s taste in music, otherwise you’d be going in blind, which can be a dangerous game to play, especially as music is an incredibly subjective taste! Using data relating to your employees to map out preferences can be key to an effective benefit strategy, ensuring that the benefits you offer are relevant to your audience. It’s a good thing to ask people what they like, and then to listen to them.

I remember anxiously sitting down and watching the expressions of my friends when I played them the mix tape I’d just made them, watching to see whether they liked a song or not. It’s difficult to get everything spot on with a mix tape, but you learn for next time. I remember with every good mix tape you wanted to start with a BANG, something to grab attention. It’s no good putting lots of worthy music on if your audience are drifting off. Get their attention, hold it. I may also be alone with this, but I used to spend some time trying to make the cover look vaguely attractive – I wanted to present the mix tape in the right way. See… mix tapes and employee benefits are so similar.

Employee benefits are similar in that sense, making informed decisions by applying data to design is part of the process, however, until a program has actually been implemented, you don’t know how effective it will be. You can’t just develop a strategy and expect it to be perfect first time round. People’s taste evolves over time whether that be with music or benefits, that’s why it is important to optimise your tactics in line with what you have learnt.

The mix tapes that I made that failed (and I made a fair few that did) put more emphasis on me than the person I was making the tape for. Ultimately it is for them, with just a little of my tastes thrown in.

The demise of the mix tape is a sad thing. But we can keep the spirit alive. It’s ultimately about giving something to people that they want and appreciate. And the feeling you get back when they really cherish what you’ve done…

About the author

Gareth Davies Head of Research and Engagement

Gareth Davies

Insight Research

Our research reports are aimed at Pension Trustees and HR Directors, covering topics such as pensions, health, flexible benefits, engagement and wellness. They are free to download!

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