Employee Benefits Go Mainstream

The subject of national headlines and political debates, work perks are no longer the sole province of HR.

By Henry G. Jackson Aug 25, 2016
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There was a time whHenry G. Jacksonen only HR professionals were concerned abot the nuts and bolts of employee benefits such as paid leave, telework and health care. Perhaps a top recruit asked a question or a female worker expecting her first child sought clarification on the Family and Medical Leave Act. Or maybe it was HR’s perennial favorite time of year: open enrollment season. 

Not any longer. Employee benefits have gone mainstream. 

Today, companies make news with their latest and greatest perks, ranging from unlimited vacation to free college degrees to, most recently, student loan payments. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines when he took time off for parenting, and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer stirred controversy after opting to drop her company’s telework option. Even in the political arena, paid leave has officially become a hot topic. At a recent event I participated in during one of the U.S. political conventions, a senator said that “portable” benefits will become necessary as more workers join the gig economy. 

More and more, policies once discussed by HR professionals and managers around conference room tables are now being hashed out in national conversations. That’s why I say we are in the Decade of Human Capital.

The world is evolving rapidly, but the way we approach work has not kept pace. People, companies and even governments are trying to bridge the gap.

Consider the fact that only 50 or so years ago, the typical U.S. worker was a white male who traveled to a brick-and-mortar office, where he worked 9 to 5 and then enjoyed an easy commute home. He spent an evening with family, uninterrupted by his job. He started at the bottom of a company, worked his way up the corporate ladder and, after 30 or 40 years of dedicated service, he retired—likely with a guaranteed pension.

In the modern workplace, that so-called typical worker no longer exists. There is greater diversity of all types—age, gender, ethnicity and more. The tenured career is on the decline, and the freelance nation is on the rise. Employees must balance work and personal lives that are more intertwined than ever before. Moreover, advances in technology have given people greater flexibility than they’ve ever had to work when, where and how they choose. According to SHRM research, telecommuting has tripled in the past 20 years. 

In short order, we need to be much more creative and flexible in the way we approach every aspect of human resource management, including by crafting benefits that reflect the changing needs and wants of today’s worker. This month’s cover story highlights some of the most imaginative and generous benefits that today’s companies are offering to attract and retain talent—everything from concierges to Zen yoga. It also offers important lessons for all HR professionals looking to put innovative policies in place and explores how HR can address the C-suite’s requests to calculate ROI on the company’s benefits packages

We can expect more of these conversations as the workplace and workforce continue to evolve. Know that, as you adjust your company’s benefits offerings, you are doing far more than simply adding new programs. You are shifting the employee-employer relationship to an approach that makes sense for people and organizations in the 21st century workplace.  

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