Improving engagement with good employment conditions

A company car, working from home, or office happy hour: what secondary employment conditions does your staff need and what can you offer? 

There are three types of working conditions, or benefits: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary benefits are the basic agreements you make with an employee, such as salary and working hours. Secondary benefits complement these primary benefits, make work easier for your employees, and help them strike a good work-life balance. Examples include a year-end bonus, company cafeteria, performance bonus, child care, continued education, or a company car. You can also offer one-off perks, such as a bonus or working-from-home allowance. Tertiary benefits are perks designed to make working for you more attractive, such as a Christmas hamper or company lunch.  

Mandatory employment conditions  

Primary employment conditions should include at least the following: salary, deductions and settlements, allowances, holiday pay, working hours, leave, and leave schemes. As of 1 August 2022, the following employment conditions are also mandatory:  

  • The duration and terms of the trial period: probation periods are not mandatory, but there are certain rules you should follow.  
  • Holiday and leave schemes.  
  • The place of work: working from home, for example. Keep in mind that employers are required to provide a proper workplace for home workers with disabilities.  
  • A possible right to training: you can turn this into a secondary employment condition.  
  • The procedure for terminating the employment contract: this includes the notice period and the manner of giving notice.  
  • Individual pay components, such as a bonus.  
  • The minimum wage is the same for everyone as of 1 January 2024.  

Secondary employment conditions  

Secondary employment conditions, or fringe benefits, are not mandatory, but they have some great advantages. Fringe benefits can help increase employee engagement and productivity, as well as making it easier to attract and retain employees. Possible fringe benefits include a learning and development budget, internet allowance, flexible working hours, or working from home.  

Tailored employment conditions  

Which secondary employment conditions employees prefer changes over time. According to Arjan Vissers, strategy officer at Indeed Benelux, employers should always tailor their employment conditions to the current situation.  

Vissers explains: “Operations and working methods are adaptive and change over time. Therefore, like Baeten, I advise employers to always tailor their employment conditions to their employees’ needs. Offer office-related benefits, like ‘free lunch’ or ‘table tennis’.”  

To effectively tailor your employment conditions to employee needs, you need to delve into their daily routines. What issues are they encountering and what do they want? Ask your employees or put out an employment conditions survey.  

Soft employment conditions  

Soft employment conditions are becoming increasingly popular, Vissers notes. “Flexibility and work-life balance are currently the biggest issues. Now that their children cannot go to school, employees have to keep several balls in the air. Employers should keep this in mind. And they do, as evidenced by the increase in phrases like ‘flexible working hours’, ‘paid parental leave’, and ‘good work-life balance’ in job ads.”  

Demand for sabbaticals, a good example of a soft employment condition, is clearly increasing. Jacques van Geffen, owner of hospitality businesses Buurt and DIT, has experienced this first-hand. “We like sabbaticals. We might not be able to guarantee that you can return to your old job afterwards, but I will always try to make space. We often try to keep in touch with employees during their sabbatical to check how they are doing and ask about their plans. Offering sabbaticals is a good way to retain high-quality, motivated workers.”  

Commuter allowances and group health insurance are examples of secondary employment conditions. It is important to note that as of 1 January 2023, employees can no longer get a group discount on their health insurance premiums anymore. On a more positive note, you will pay less tax on your travel allowance in the coming years.   

Green working conditions  

Research has shown that 75% of employees prefer working for a company with social impact initiatives. This includes companies that have a corporate social responsibility programme or companies that make sustainable business choices. Consider offering green or socially responsible employment conditions. “Help employees make sustainable choices. You could offer extra leave to employees travelling by train, bicycle, or foot, for instance. Alternatively, you could promise to plant trees if your employee switches to a sustainable bank”, says Savannah Koomen of De groene arbeidsovereenkomst (in Dutch). You can use the free tool on their website to create a tailor-made sustainable employment contract as a pdf file. Employers can also help employees green their homes. Thanks to the work-related expenses scheme, this can even have tax benefits.  

Documenting employment conditions  

Employers are not required to offer secondary employment conditions. If you do want to offer fringe benefits, you can do so verbally or document them. Simply include the conditions in a contract and have it signed by the employer and employee. You can also include employment conditions in the employee handbook.  

Van Geffen’s hospitality businesses do not offer black-and-white secondary employment conditions. He prefers verbal agreements instead. “Our employment conditions are fully aligned with the CAO (Collective Labour Agreement) for hospitality workers, but we are happy to negotiate other terms and meet employees’ individual needs. If an employee asked me whether she could work less because they had children, I would always agree.”  

Employment conditions can apply across the board, such as working from home allowances, or to specific employees, such as flexible scheduling for employees with children. Make sure that your employees know how to request each benefit, what requirements they have to meet, and how long the benefit will apply, so that both parties know what to expect.  

Changing employment conditions  

Employers are bound by the employment contract and supplementary employment conditions they have agreed with employees. Want to change an employee’s employment conditions? You can always change their working conditions with the employee’s consent. Unilateral changes are only allowed if you have compelling grounds and agree on a change clause, or if you make a reasonable proposal to the employee and they agree on the basis of good employment practices. In the latter two cases, the grounds or the proposal serve as the basis for the change.  

Always document exactly what you are changing, what, why, and how long, and have the document signed by both parties. This can help you prevent disputes in the future.  

Talk to your employees first  

COO and co-founder of strategic HR agency YourConnector Aleid Haenen admits that tweaking employment conditions can be nerve-wracking at times. “When changing employment conditions, ask your employees about their thoughts and needs. Doing so will help you get the support you need. Now that many people are working from home, we chose to move with the times and shuttered our office. Instead, we rent beautiful, inspiring office spaces across the country every month. Some employees may look forward to working from a holiday home, while others may be more hesitant. Needs and perceptions are very personal. It is important to make room for people’s needs while also holding on to a certain degree of standardisation.