If your staff room looks like this it’s safe to say that employers are still having to do all they can to retain talented staff. David Parsley introduces this year’s consultants’ salary guide with a look at some of the quirkier perks on offer

At least, amid all the talk of credit crunches and market downturns, some people are still having fun. The fight to recruit and retain consultants has, if anything, got more frantic, and companies are going to increasing – some would say bizarre – lengths to attract architects, engineers and surveyors.

The 2008 salary and benefits guide, by Hays Construction & Property and Building, lists the usual benefits employees now expect but what is more interesting are the more unusual perks that are on offer.

Topping the list of benefits that employees want from employers is 25 days’ annual holiday: 77% of those surveyed said it was a priority. Next was the 65% that wanted flexible working, suggesting that the days of 9-5 are over. Next up was the company pension scheme, named by 64%, followed closely by a performance-based bonus, which was mentioned by 63%. Making up the top five is training support, which scored 59%. This shows that today’s employees are not happy to continue using the same skills for years on end and are keen to learn new tricks in order to advance.

Greg Lettington, director of Hays Construction & Property, says it’s not just big salaries that staff are after: “Salary increases are being complemented by improvements to benefits packages, which are often standard across the larger consultancies. Flexible working is a key element of these packages, given the strong focus on work–life balance for employees.”

On top of this, the survey revealed a whole range of quirkier benefits that employers are offering staff in order to stand out from rival recruiters. It means employees have the pick of a whole new range of benefits, while employers who aren’t already offering such perks should perhaps think about introducing them. Here, we reveal six of the best …

1. Gadgets

It’s a wonder any work gets done at GIA Design, the multidisciplinary consultancy – working in the firm’s south London office is akin to going to an amusement arcade every day. The dizzying array of gadgets at its office tops our chart of quirky perks. There’s a pool table, computer games, massage chairs and, in the women’s loo, hair straighteners and dryers.

The latter must be handy for getting ready for the firm’s regular staff parties, including the annual trip to an upmarket hotel for the weekend-long Christmas bash.

And it seems to be having the desired effect: GIA’s staff numbers have quadrupled to 120 over the past two years. Fiona Pattinson, the associate partner who heads the firm’s HR department, says: “It’s a very cool place to work. People often bring friends round to show them the offices and even stay hours after work to play.”

But do staff join GIA for the career opportunities or simply to play games for a living? “I have to admit,” says Pattinson, “I do sometimes have to gauge whether people want to join us for the right reasons.”

2. Borrow or buy a bike

In an effort to win the battle to be sustainable, Stride Treglown makes it pay for staff to be green. This architect, which has offices across the country, operates a “cycle to work” scheme, whereby it provides staff with an interest free loan, deducted from monthly pay packets, to fund the purchase of a bike.

The initiative has proved so popular that the firm has founded a lunchtime bike club.

If that weren’t enough, staff that use peddle power to get to meetings are actually paid for each mile they cover.

3. Free breakfasts

At number three are Young and Gault Architects’ free Friday breakfasts. Every week staff at the Glasgow-based firm are rewarded for a hard week’s work with bacon butties, muffins and coffee – and any specially requests. This may not do as much for the waistlines of staff as a cycle to work scheme would, but it certainly boosts their morale.

4. Buy more holiday

More consultancies are offering staff the chance to “buy” days off. For example, in April Atkins increased the number of days off its consultants could buy from five to 15. Staff can take the extra days on top of their normal holiday allowance if they are prepared to take them unpaid. An Atkins spokesperson says: “It allows people to be away from work for a really decent stretch. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to spend time with their children during school holidays or for people who want to go travelling. It’s about recruitment and retention.”

5. Poets day

Even if you don’t know what Poets day stands for, you can be sure many of your contemporaries in rival companies do. It means you get to go home early on Fridays. To put it less delicately, it is an acronym for: “Piss off early – tomorrow’s Saturday.” Many view it as an inefficient working practice, but firms that have adopted it claim it has increased staff loyalty and effort.

6. Happy birthday to you!

On top of the near mandatory 25 days’ holiday entitlement, many businesses, including multidisciplinary consultant Baily Garner, are allowing employees a day off on their birthdays. It’s a great perk, but if your next birthday falls on a Saturday you’ll probably have to wait a couple of years to benefit from this one as your contract is sadly unlikely to allow you to take a weekday in lieu. You have to pity those born on 29 February.

Surveyors (see table at bottom)

This is where the real money is. The average salary of a QS in the UK is higher than for any other employee in the industry. With senior central London staff earning, on average, £70,000, the profession’s only close competitor is building surveying.

Almost all ranks in the sector across the nation have experienced pay increases way above inflation in the past year, with most reporting hikes of more than 5%.

But could this be as good as it gets? Lee Grayland, a manager at Hays, says: ”In London salaries have almost reached a plateau. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 12 months.”

The other highly paid surveying discipline may beat most for salaries, but it is not experiencing the same dramatic rises as quantity surveying. The highest pays have, on an average across the nation, risen about 5%, but salaries for less experienced and lower ranking staff have risen less than 4%.

Although the sector is experiencing higher demand from commercial clients there has been a noticeable slowdown in the residential sector.

Still, salaries are high when compared with most other construction industry professions, with the highest paid earning £67,000 in London and above £50,000 elsewhere across the country.

Architects (see table at bottom)

Architects of all levels are in high demand and practices that make potential employees feel valued with a swift and efficient recruitment process attract the best talent.

While London commands the highest salaries, all regions have benefited from a strong rise in pay packets – the national average is up about 4% across all ranks.

Outside the capital, the Home Counties and north-west England have the highest salaries and Wales, the South-west and Northern Ireland prop up the table. Despite this, the differences are not great. The North-west has benefited from a number of new practices opening up in Manchester, thereby increasing the competition for talent.

In a new trend to combat skill shortages, some employers are beginning to recruit part-qualified graduates who they then support through further training.

Civil and structural cad technicians (see table at bottom)

This is one of the areas of main concern in the industry, as the skills shortage is most acute. There is a particularly requirement for CAD-fluent staff and, as a result, even those with limited experience have had 7% salary rises in the last year.

David Wilkinson, senior manager at Hays, says: “3D visualisation is becoming increasingly sought after within architectural practices as a stand-alone role. Some modern practices are using quirky add-ons, such as supplying fresh fruit and offering your birthday as a day off to entice people.”

“More clients are specifically requesting good levels of spoken and written English, owing to the increase in foreign workers applying for positions. Antipodeans stand in good stead because their experience and education is more easily transferable.”

The West and East Midlands are shown to be in particular need of experienced CAD experts salaries in these regions are beaten only in the capital.

Engineers (see table at bottom)

The survey shows that over the past year there has been a definite rise in demand for civil and structural engineers, as the services of senior ranking players are becoming increasingly scarce.

As a result of the skills shortage, the sector has started offering golden handshakes, something that had been previously considered a perk of working for a construction firm. These are increasingly common in structural engineering and are expected to become more prevalent in the years to come.

Mark Thomas, a senior manager at Hays, says: “Employers have started to respond to the skills shortage by investing in graduate trainee schemes and by forging links with universities, but overall, not enough is being done. While some employers will consider non-cognates for less technical roles, many are looking for more technically qualified candidates.”

Certain sectors are, however, becoming more receptive to employing non-cognates. For example, employers in the transport planning sector are considering candidates with a maths or geography background.

Although London and the Home Counties offer the highest salaries in this sector, East Anglia is doing more than most to raise the average national income.


The Hays Construction & Property/Building Salary Guide 2007 is based on salaries of candidates placed within the past 12 months. It is compiled over a four-week period by staff at offices across the UK.

Hays Construction & Property, the specialist recruitment consultancy to the built environment, consulted candidates and clients and used the specialist knowledge of its recruitment consultants to compile this comprehensive survey. For further information visit www.hays.com/cp