Good news, not all trends are pandemic related!
Many of the 2021 employee benefit trends are related to employee issues that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as accommodating employees working remotely and keeping employees healthy and productive during these challenging times. While some of these benefit trends will fade when the pandemic does, others may become the “new normal” in employee benefit programs.
According to a 2019 Employee Benefits Survey administered by the Society for Human Resource Management [SHRM], here is a list of the most desired and requested benefits employees would like their companies to offer:
- Employer-enhanced Flexible Spending Accounts [FSA]: Topping the wanted list, according to most employee surveys, is a direct financial contribution from the employer to an employee’s reimbursement spending account. The employer contribution can be made to a traditional healthcare spending account—the FSA—based on IRS regulations using pre-tax dollars. This latest trend includes two new variations on the conventional FSA:
- Financial Wellness Account [FWA]— This program can be used for health and wellness treatments, continuing education courses, counseling of any type, home office services, or home meal delivery—any expenses that don’t meet IRS exclusion rules. The FWA is a post-tax payroll deduction fund that allows an employee to spend the extra money where they need it most.
- Emergency Savings Account [ESA]— Some companies make an initial monetary deposit into an ESA that lets employees build a rainy-day fund through payroll deductions. This money does not need to remain deposited long term, employees can access these funds immediately or as needed. However, it’s important to note that ESA dollars deducted from employees’ paychecks are taxed as income.
- Health Benefits: Telehealth & Increasing Mental Health Care Options: Employers are implementing expanded mental health programs that feature services related to addiction, substance abuse, and stress-related issues. Employers are asking healthcare providers to include an employee-option to use telemedicine sessions at no extra cost. New on the horizon—some manufacturing and larger-sized companies are providing onsite medical care clinics staffed with licensed nurses or physician’s assistants to test and treat employees, and in some cases, their families.
- Flexible Work Schedules: While not technically a benefit, employers are supporting employees who are struggling with childcare, school closures, or caring for a family member by allowing flexibility in their work schedules. This will help ensure employees’ productivity during these trying times. Recruiters have also listed this policy as one of the top benefits used in attracting and retaining top employee talent.
- Remote Worker Benefits: A “Remote Worker” benefits package may include a monthly stipend for cell phone and internet service, special work equipment and furnishings, housekeeping relating to home office upkeep, or any cost related to running a home office. Some companies offer a lump sum to employees for home office setup, and thereafter, give a monthly or annual stipend to maintain that home office. This stipend allows the employee freedom to create a more productive workspace. Please note: many states have laws that require employers to pay for specific work-related expenses—check with your state labor board for compliance.
- Childcare Assistance: Childcare issues during this pandemic have risen to a crisis level. While the pandemic will end, employers have witnessed firsthand the consequences of inadequate childcare resources on workforce availability and productivity. Many families have already maxed-out their paid sick leave/PTO options. Some companies have chosen to provide onsite daycare in the workplace, while other employers have implemented flexible work schedules, childcare stipends, or tutoring stipends to keep kids occupied for an uninterrupted work-environment.
- Dependent Care Assistance: A recent addition to these programs includes assistance for other family members such as elderly parents, disabled family members, or designated legal dependents.
- Employee Assistance Programs [EAP]: Work-based intervention programs designed to help employees resolve personal problems that may be adversely affecting their performance or morale. Past EAPs have included programs that help workers with alcohol or substance abuse—but now may help employees with relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness concerns, and traumatic events like workplace violence. These programs are offered at no cost to employees and are administered by low-cost EAP vendors or providers who are part of comprehensive health insurance plans. Services are often delivered via phone, video-based counseling, online chatting, e-mail interactions, or even face-to-face.
- Financial Wellness Programs: Employers provide access to pre-paid legal services, financial planning, debt counseling, student loan assistance, or other types of financial help for employees to manage economic challenges.
Best Trend for 2021? Implement One Benefit Your Employees Really Care About!
Ask for employee feedback about your company’s benefits. Create a “report card” survey that asks your employees to evaluate your benefits—both current and those they would like to have. Ask them, how can we help? Asking for feedback will prompt employees to expect a response, so take at least one popular suggestion and implement it! Your employees will be grateful—employee gratitude often translates into loyalty and staff retention, higher productivity, positive attitudes, and a happier workplace. 2020 was hard on businesses and families but this list may inspire some changes that benefit us all as we move into a new year!