Who remembers luncheon vouchers?

Who remembers luncheon vouchers? If you don’t, they were an employee benefit which was introduced in postwar Britain so that employers without a staff canteen could subsidise staff meals.

Employees received a daily food allowance in voucher form which was tax-free, and they could be used to buy a “healthy” lunch from local shops or cafés. Within a decade, the scheme had become hugely popular and standardised, with the 3 shillings a day (15 pence, in modern money) of vouchers, that some employees received, redeemable in food outlets throughout the UK.

By the 1970s, a distinctive green and white “LV” sticker could be seen in the windows of thousands of cafes and restaurant who accepted the vouchers. Even though the tax-free amount of 15p per day hadn’t increased in decades, LVs (as they were affectionately known) were still a hugely popular and much-loved benefit. In fact, job adverts would highlight if luncheon vouchers were an employee benefit, and receiving LVs had a certain cachet.

The fact that employees frequently sat at work eating homemade sandwiches, whilst their loved ones used their LVs to buy lunch on days out, somewhat defeated the original aim of LVs, but was one of the reasons they had such widespread appeal.

This trip down memory lane has a purpose though. As benefits go, luncheon vouchers were one of the first widespread employee benefits, and they were incredibly popular because people felt there was a real benefit in receiving them.

Therein lies a problem with a lot of employee benefits today. Employee benefits only work in attracting, motivating, and retaining staff if they are wanted and valued by the recipient. Sadly, many of the more common benefits businesses currently provide in standardised “benefits packages” frequently fail in these regards, because not all staff are the same.

Take free, or subsidised, gym membership, for example. It has long been a popular benefit provided by employers in the UK but, if you would rather spend your leisure time reading a good book instead of jumping about in a Zumba class, then gym membership loses any value as a benefit. 

Whilst this is just one example, there is growing evidence to show that benefits are an increasingly important factor when people are looking at jobs, with a recent survey by Group Risk Development (GRiD), the industry body for the group risk sector, finding that around a third of people now consider benefits to be as important as salary. This may come as a surprise to some, but if you consider how the global pandemic has impacted people over the past 18 months, it is clear that ‘quality of life’ has become much more important for many.

In a separate piece of research, Aon’s UK Benefits & Trends Survey 2021, which surveyed more than 300 businesses and their employees, found that there is an increasing emphasis amongst employees on benefits which improve their work/life balance and support mental and financial wellbeing. These include the ability for agile/home working, which 97% of employees said they expect their employer to now provide, flexible working hours (95%), access to financial education (43%), better awareness and handling of mental health issues (38%), mindfulness/resilience classes (38%) and providing a learning/personal development account (37%). 

Fortunately, businesses do appear to be listening, with Aon’s survey finding that more than 70% of businesses have increased their emphasis on employee work/life balance, mental health and well-being since the pandemic began.

There is little doubt that the global pandemic has had a considerable influence on what employees now consider to be important, over and above their salary. If benefits are to continue to help attract, motivate, and retain good staff, businesses will need to provide different kinds of benefits, and tailor them to individual needs or wants. Many businesses are already doing this with great success and, from our experience, it is far easier to create a relevant and meaningful benefits program than many employers imagine.

It is likely that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to benefits may soon be consigned to history, much like the 15p per day luncheon voucher allowance. They were good whilst they lasted, but times change, as the last 18 months has shown us only too well.

About K Bater Consultancy

K Bater Consultancy provides human resource support, advice, and solutions to small and medium sized businesses across the UK and has extensive experience in helping businesses design, implement and manage employee benefit schemes.

Its founder and principal, Kelly Bater, has more than 20 years’ experience advising and supporting small and medium sized businesses with all aspects of human resource management, is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has a Post Graduate Diploma in HR Management.

To find out more about how K Bater Consultancy can help your business, contact Kelly today on 07500 939255 or via email at kelly@kbaterhr.com