How Companies are Revamping “Traditional” Employee Benefits

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One of the best ways for employers to attract and retain employees is through offering a generous suite of benefits. Cash may still be king, but benefits are undeniably royalty. More and more employers are offering a unique portfolio of benefits to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The glitz and glam of the new age perks a la Google and Facebook have stolen the spotlight these last few years. But the best employers are not just redesigning their interior decor with bean bag lounges and video games, they are also helping their employees think about and invest in their future well-being with more “traditional benefits”. It can’t always be about instant gratification, right? Here are some of the trends we see happening recently in employee benefits.

Help cover the rising costs of higher education

College tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled in the last 35 years. If car prices had gone up that quickly, the average new car would cost $80,000. New Porsche anyone? Despite the ballooning price tag, enrollment figures continue to grow as well. This equation is what’s led to the $1.3 trillion student debt crisis Americans are facing.

Student debt is a very real financial and emotional burden on individuals, and it’s in employers’ best interest to help their employees tackle this debt. There are also significant returns for having better-educated employees, so forward-thinking organizations are encouraging staff to invest in their education.

Just last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) launched a new benefit program for their employees, paying $1,200 a year for 6 years, or $7,200 total towards student debt. A recent study says that the average graduate owes about $35,000 in student debt, meaning that PwC is essentially footing more than 20% of the bill. How can anyone say no to that?

Other companies have formed partnerships with local colleges to reimburse tuition fees. Starbucks is known for their partnership with Arizona State University, fully reimbursing part- or full-time employee tuition fees. This sort of investment does not go unnoticed, especially by Millennials, 50% of whom expect financial support in paying for further education and 33% of whom expect employers to help pay off existing student loans.

Invest in employees’ physical and mental well-being

Healthier employees are more focused and productive workers. And that means healthy in all senses of the word — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Who doesn’t feel refreshed and more effective after taking a few minutes to meditate or go for a run? Or after disconnecting for a long weekend to unwind or maybe travel somewhere new? If you haven’t disconnected for a while, we’d recommend it. It’ll do you wonders!

Let your people recharge — whatever that may mean for them — and they will produce better results. Seems pretty intuitive, right? Well, many companies are just starting to realize this. And the best ones recognize that a one-size-fits-all package isn’t going to cut it. Many companies are offering the staples like paid gym memberships and wellness reimbursement stipends. Some offer programs like smoking cessation, weight loss, and stress management sessions. Silicon Valley giants are increasing the ante by investing in on-site full-service gyms, health clinics, and recreation centers.

But it’s not enough for employees to be just physically healthy. If you’ve picked up any major news publication in the last few months, you’ll know that mindfulness and mental well-being is all the rage now. Vacations and breaks are good for productivity, as well as in managing mental and emotional health. Netflix and Grubhub have spearheaded the trend of giving employees unlimited vacation time, and Airbnb offers its employees an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel and stay in an Airbnb listing anywhere in the world. Airbnb also just overtook Google as Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work for 2016. Coincidence? We think not.

Encourage new parents to spend time with their little ones

The U.S. is the only developed nation without mandatory paid maternity leave. The good news is we’re at least moving in the right direction — companies are becoming more flexible in terms of allowing their employees time off.

Private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) recently extended paid leave for new parents to 16 weeks, as well as announcing a new policy that pays for employees to travel on business trips with both their babies and caretakers until the child’s first birthday.

Companies like Twitter and Adobe are leading the charge and have extended their maternity leave policies to 20 and 26 weeks of paid leave respectively, but Netflix has topped them all with their game-changing policy of unlimited paid maternity or paternity leave during the first year of the child’s birth or adoption. Mic. Drop.


Invest strategically in retirement and healthcare plans

In recent years, employers have been looking into newer, cheaper ways to offer traditional benefits. Pension plans are slowly being replaced by more flexible and cheaper options such as the 401(k). Employees still receive value, but companies have less financial responsibilities this way.

Voluntary benefits are another new option companies have been adopting. These are benefits the company offers but are fully paid for by the employee, like health and life insurance plans. In fact, both companies and employees actually seem to like this option a lot more. Surprised? It’s because the company saves money by making the employees pay for it, but employees can benefit from the lower rates offered through the company. Plus, you have more control over your own benefits as an employee, since you can decide which ones you want to pay for and avoid those you don’t want. 

Hopefully these trends have given you something to consider, regardless of whether you’re in pursuit of a job or you’re hiring. The most shocking related statistic we found is how little employees know about their benefits. According to this study by SHRM, only 19% of organizations say that their workers have a high understanding of their benefit offerings. Can you imagine if only 19% of people knew what their salaries were? Chaos.

So, if you take anything away from this post, make sure that you take the time to understand what your company is offering you. Don’t be afraid to ask your employer — they’re already paying for the benefits so they’ll definitely want the credit for it. 🙂