The benefits landscape is ever evolving. What in-office perks were once getting employees through the door is no longer going to cut it, again. COVID-19 quickly exposed areas where employers could improve in their benefits offerings as those whose homes also became their office struggled with work/life integration. As employers decide whether or not to remain remote, those who do plan to adopt more permanent remote work models not only open up the doors to a much larger talent pool with even more diverse needs, they will of course remain accountable for supporting their current workforce. That brings about the question: what benefits are companies spending their dollars on in a COVID-19 era to maintain their competitive and progressive edge?
Prior to COVID, we saw companies implementing flexible and remote work opportunities as a way to stand out from the crowd of employers all competing for the same talent. Other in-office perks like beer on tap, free lunch and snacks, and onsite gyms had candidates pulled in. While the benefits landscape has been evolving over time, COVID-19 put a spotlight on the areas in which benefits offerings could use improvement. Now, the most popular benefits that employers are looking to invest in are those that make all employees feel seen, heard and supported.
The first are benefits that focus on supporting the mental health of employees. This is no surprise as individuals “normal” lives were upended due to coronavirus and anxiety, depression, grief and substance use increased as devastation swept the country, with typical support outlets (such as spending time with friends, family, the gym and other activities/social supports) restricted. The first inquiries we received during COVID were related to resources that employers could share with employees to address mental and emotional wellbeing, specifically stress and anxiety. This increased demand for mental health resources is in line with a recent survey of 256 companies by the nonprofit employer group the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, which found that 53% of employers are providing special emotional and mental health programs for their workforce in the wake of the pandemic. These include changes in employee assistance programs, discounts on mental health apps, and more virtual service options like remote yoga classes.
Next, and this comes with even less surprise, employees are seeking out family-friendly benefits, such as employer-sponsored childcare. Even those employees who don’t have children are in favor of a benefit that supports their working colleagues. Why? Because a supported colleague is more present and more collaborative. Even during the best of times, working parents struggle to find a balance between working and caring for their children and elderly family members, resulting in lost productivity due to care-related absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover. According to a back to school survey conducted by Care.com, 73% of working parents say that they may have to make major changes at work if schools and day care do not fully open, and stay open, such as: amending their schedules (44%), looking for a different job (21%), or leaving the workforce entirely (15%). Even so, employers still don’t have a grasp on the full impact of family-care issues in the workplace with only 15% of respondents currently receiving employer-sponsored child care benefits. Yet, among those who do receive them, 85% value them even more as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with 59% valuing them much more now.
Third, we’re seeing an even greater increase in the demand for fertility, adoption and surrogacy benefits to address diversity and inclusion when it comes to such family-friendly benefits.