Retaining staff is not easy. The ‘Great Resignation’ of the last year has seen as many as one in five people change jobs or expect to, according to varying reports, while the talent shortage means that it’s more costly and difficult to hire new people into the business.

This was sparked by the Covid pandemic, but the phenomenon has continued and, if anything, the cost-of-living crisis seems to have brought this into stark relief.

The looming financial uncertainty may bring about some changes to this status-quo but, right now, employers across many different industries are struggling to retain their workforce in an otherwise booming jobs market.

When it comes to retaining staff, analysis shows that there’s the obvious desire for a good salary and benefits among UK employees, with over a third (35%) saying they are looking for a higher salary and one in five (19%) seeking benefits like healthcare, childcare and holiday allowances. Outside of benefits though, employees are looking for a good work life balance (31%) and to enjoy their work.

Employees may need their wages to stretch further, but businesses cannot necessarily afford to grant pay rises. It’s not always possible – or good business sense – to throw money and promotions around. For managers or HR teams, the challenge is how to reward and recognise your staff in ways they appreciate and show you value them.

This is one of the most important steps a business can take. Employees who feel valued and appreciated will be more engaged and loyal to their employers.

The reward structure has to meet the needs of staff and motivate them and it can take many forms, but typically works as part of a flexible benefits package that enables staff to access a range of services and discounts. Other rewards can be purchased as gift cards, vouchers and e-vouchers. Most of these are done in conjunction with a dedicated employee reward provider. Anything that contributes directly to covering regular costs for an employee will be a popular policy, especially those already wondering how they can maintain their lifestyle with inflation going up.

According to the latest analysis by the Gift Card and Voucher Association (GCVA) and KPMG UK, incentive and motivation schemes to foster loyalty are becoming more attractive to employees. 47% said that an incentive, such as a gift card, would have more impact on their loyalty and productivity than before the cost of living crisis hit. With 20% of people saying this increase in impact would be significant.

The most popular rewards are supermarket discounts, travel and cinema. In fact, discounted cinema tickets are a great flexible benefit. They’re popular: there are an average 150 million cinema tickets sold in the UK each year, accessible all over the country. They’re meaningful: employees feel like they’re getting a night out as a perk. They’re suited to all demographics: cinema-goers are a diverse bunch, across all ages, genders and background. But there’s another reason why this kind of reward is so suited to work.

Following the pandemic, hybrid working or the return to the office, people need to find ways to bring back meaningful social interaction in the office or virtually. Employers can help to bring back the water cooler moments of employees chatting. Far from distracting people from work, most employers instinctively understand the benefit from office camaraderie and the communities that spring up around shared interests, experience and chit-chat.

Giving staff benefits, and advocating for them to be used, can help to drive these relationships and that is a major part of fostering staff loyalty. The team that chats together, stays together.

Over half (51%) of the UK workforce don’t feel a sense of belonging in the workplace and almost a quarter (24%) say they don’t even have one friend at work. Employees who feel socially isolated or lonely feel less attached to their work, and their sense of belonging and dedication to the organisation suffers, especially when it comes to talent retention.

Do employee reward programmes really add any benefit to retaining staff? The short answer is: yes, they do. And in today’s economic climate, employers need all the help they can get in keeping their staff loyal and motivated.