The Evolution of Benefits

September 08, 2021
MRA Edge
Engagement & Retention
Health & Wellness
Read time: 4 mins

You have heard the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Since the pandemic came to town, when it comes to benefit offerings, that statement is straight-up false.

Organizations are changing their benefits immensely to try and keep up with employees’ current wants and needs. What was once considered unnecessary (or not considered at all) is now a nonnegotiable item. Think remote work and flexibility.

“We have seen statistics that more than half of employers now offer remote work, and 96 percent say that remote employee productivity stayed at the same level or greater,” says Mackenzie Button, Total Rewards Director for MRA. “For many employees, flexibility is simply part of the deal. Moving forward, companies that can offer remote options and don’t will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Back in the day, like 2019, benefits were more focused on checking the box of what employees needed to have. There was not much thought given to how employees were using their benefits, or what would make life more convenient for them and their families. A handful of companies offered certain benefits just to be competitive in the marketplace.

A New Day Has Dawned

But now, there is much more emphasis on benefits because employees are focused on them to a greater extent. Human resources professionals want to make sure they are spending money in the right places while getting the most bang for their buck, so they are using new and creative benefit ideas as a way to address their employees’ needs. A big bonus: a thoughtful benefits package can attract and retain quality employees.

“A welcome transition is that EAPs are more front and center as an employee resource, helping people through good and bad times,” says Button. “People are taking advantage of using more resources offered by their EAP, especially the mental health component.”

Mental health benefits are evolving to be more accessible with a focus on mindfulness and support. Some companies provide meditation and quiet rooms, others offer “Wellness Days,”—paid days off. Employers are more open to stress management strategies and have begun including new programs that have not been seen before, like mental health first-aid for supervisors. Wellness programs have also become increasingly popular. Employers may offer exercise options during the workday and provide resources for healthy living outside of work such as smoking cessation programs or healthy lifestyle coaching. A more robust effort helps recognize those in crisis and shows people how to get the support they need. The realization of the overworked employee who needs a break is being embraced instead of being swept under the rug.

Then there are customized benefits for different workplace populations. New college graduates have different needs than senior staffers, so employers are looking at both retirement plan design and student loan repayment benefits. You can tell a lot about a company when you look at its offerings. Are childcare benefits in the mix? Eldercare options? It is a peek into how the organization may value families and time away from work to care for them, both now and in the future.

Another change in benefits to keep up with current times is paid time off for parental leave. Like it or not, companies must be family-friendly and flexible. It is becoming more common to offer 12 weeks off for a birth mother and two to four weeks off for parental/adoption leave, both with full pay.

Work-life balance is another front-runner for employees. They want to know they won’t have to give up what they enjoy—either at work or at home—because there just isn’t time for it all. Some related options that have begun to surface are pet insurance, laundry pick-up and delivery at work, transportation assistance, and flexible scheduling.

Entry-level wage increases have been in the spotlight for a while. With unemployment pay bumps and the war on talent, many organizations have upped their entry-level pay by 20 to 30 percent. Combining that with other added and enhanced benefits, many organizations’ total rewards packages look very different than just a few years ago.

Change can be good. In this case, change can be just what your employees need. Focusing on the benefits that your workers now want will help them be more engaged employees and all-around happier, healthier people.

Have some questions about benefits? Reach out Hilary Hauser, Director, Total Rewards & Affirmative Action at 763-253-9186 or [email protected], or Mackenzie Button, Total Rewards Director at 262.696.3367 or [email protected].