Choice Stories

December 11, 2019

The Evolution of Employee Benefits in the Modern Workplace

With 3.6% unemployment, the lowest rate in more than four decades, employers face increasing competition in recruiting and retaining top employees. While many businesses are responding by increasing wages, others are also making changes to their employee benefits programs to address changing demographics and health care needs.

As evidenced by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, offerings that were not a part of the typical benefits package a few years back are increasing in popularity.

Health Care & Wellness

Employers continue to emphasize health care and retirement benefits. In the latest SHRM survey, health-related benefits were increased by 20% of employers since 2018, regardless of size. Wellness benefits were more likely to be broadened by larger employers (those with 500+ employees), as compared to small businesses (1-99 employees).

Eighty-five percent of employers offer a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) insurance plan. High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) linked to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) continue to grow, with more than half (59%) of employers offering at least one HDHP offering. That could decline in next year’s SHRM survey, as the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in October 2019 that employers are scaling back on HDHPs, finding instead that a more generous plan with a lower deductible is an attractive recruitment tool.

Leave and Flexible Working Benefits

There is a growing demand for flexible work hours and the ability to work remotely. Employers have responded by increasing the availability of telecommuting and flextime. According to the SHRM 2019 survey, 69% of employers allow telecommuting on an ad-hoc basis (up from 56% in 2015). Forty-two percent allow telecommuting on a part-time basis (up from 36% in 2015). More than one-fourth (27%) of SHRM respondents said they allow full-time telecommuting (up from 22% in 2015).

While just 15% of SHRM survey respondents offer a four-day workweek, there is growing interest in the idea among employees. As reported in Q1 2019 by CNBC, approximately two-thirds of workers want to work less than five days a week, but just 17% have that option. The idea recently generated buzz because of a 2019 experiment by Microsoft for its workers in Japan. Productivity jumped by 40% when electronics store employees switched to a four-day workweek. The company also said it lowered its electric costs (by 23%) and reduced printed pages (by nearly 60%). Similarly, a New Zealand firm found its move to a four-day week boosted productivity and reduced electric costs.

While a four-day workweek is likely not an option for all firms, it could be worth considering depending on the needs and expectations of your customers as well as your flexibility in responding to employees’ interest in a compressed work schedule.

Personal Growth/Career Advancement

Educational assistance, tuition reimbursement, and management training can help you recruit and retain cream-of-the crop talent. A new education-related benefit is also growing rapidly: student loan repayment assistance. Forbes called it the hottest employee benefit of 2018 and Employee Benefit News advocated for the addition of student loan repayment benefits in 2019.

SHRM found eight percent of employers offered such a program in 2019, doubling the number from the three prior years. That compares to 56% of employers that offer undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance (the same percentage as in 2015) and 83% that offer professional development, including both offsite and onsite opportunities.

The employer cost need not be significant. As noted in a post by Gusto, even an extra $100 per month would help the average recent college graduate pay off his or her student loans nearly three years early.

Pet-Friendly Workplaces

As Employee Benefit Adviser said in an online article in November 2019, the modern workplace is going to the dogs. In response to millennial workers’ growing affection for pets, more employees are looking to their employers to offer them access to pet insurance and on-site or nearby pet care. SHRM says about 15% of U.S. employers offered a pet insurance benefit in 2019, up from nine percent in 2015.

Eighty-seven percent of polled employers say being dog-friendly helps them attract and retain employees, according to the Mars Petcare 2019 report, Better Cities for Pets. It cites several benefits of a pet-friendly workplace:

  • Bringing pets to work means companionship, a social icebreaker, and less worry for workers about their pets.
  • Pets boost morale, build a sense of community, and get people out for regular walking breaks – all things that are good for health and collaboration.
  • When people bring pets to work, they don’t have to worry about them being alone at home. That means less anxiety during the workday and the commute home.
  • Many people say they would be more likely to join or stay at a company that allows pets. (The Mars Petcare survey found 59% of respondents would choose to work for a dog-friendly employer over one that is not.)

SHRM’s 2019 survey found 11% of employers allow pets at work – up from 8% in 2015. “Take Your Dog to Work Day,” held annually in June, is a good way to test out the idea of pets in the workplace. Just be sure to check with your office property owner and develop some rules about who is eligible to take part (e.g., socialized dogs up-to-date on vaccinations). Also, be sure you have supplies on hand to help employees with the necessary clean-up tools, which are sure to be needed.

Purina offers additional suggestions in its article, 5 Steps to a Pet-Friendly Workplace.

More Changes Likely

There is no doubt employee preferences are driving benefit changes in the workplace. That is sure to continue, as long as the economy continues to thrive and unemployment remains low. For more information about how employers are responding and what are the most common employee benefits, read our blog post, The Most Common Employee Benefits.

To get help on developing a winning employee benefits package for your business, talk with your insurance and benefits agent. If you do not have one, you can search for one here.

Your Beginner's Guide to Choosing a Small Business Employee Benefits Program

Do you need help choosing the right health benefits for your employees?
This guide can help!