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SHRM Benefits Survey Tracks Most, Least Popular Perks

Employers offer health, wellness and career development benefits to attract talent and control costs

A blue folder with the word company benefits on it.

Nearly one-third of organizations increased their overall benefits offerings in the last 12 months, with wellness and health benefits being the most likely areas to experience growth, the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) annual survey of employee benefits found.

SHRM's 2017 Employee Benefits survey report is based on a January/February survey of randomly selected SHRM members, with 3,227 HR professionals responding.

Expanding benefit options or enriching current benefits is needed to remain competitive in the talent marketplace, respondents said.

Organizations were most likely to increase wellness and health-related benefits in the past 12 months


Source: Society for Human Resource management, 2017 Employee Benefits survey report.
Click on graphic to view in a separate window.

"Given that two-thirds of organizations were experiencing recruiting difficulty and skills shortages for certain types of jobs in 2016, organizations need to focus on providing a competitive benefits package to retain and attract top talent," said Evren Esen, SHRM's director of workforce analytics.

Only a few organizations—12 percent of large businesses and 4 percent of midsize businesses—had decreased their overall benefits in the past 12 months.

"Most commonly, organizations that decreased the level of benefits said they did so to remain financially stable, whether it was due to increasing costs of benefits, economic factors or poor organizational performance," said SHRM researcher Tanya Mulvey, the survey's project leader.

Gains and Losses

Employees can look forward to free coffee, but may need to say good-bye to reimbursement for personal calls. Trends change, and SHRM researchers tracked which perks are gaining and losing favor.

Benefits: What's Hot and What's Not

From 2013 through 2017, SHRM members offered several new benefits to their employees—and they took some away, as well. Here are the benefits that were the most changed over this period.

Benefits on the Rise

Benefits on the Decline

Free coffee

Medical flexible spending accounts (FSAs)

Meal reimbursement for business travel

Defined contribution plan hardship withdrawals

Health savings accounts (HSAs)

Service anniversary awards

Financial advice

Undergraduate educational assistance

Meal flex*

Graduate educational assistance

Standing desks

Defined contribution plan loans

Onsite lactation/mother's room

Reimbursement for personal calls on business travel

Employer contributions to HSAs

Shift premiums

Sign-on bonus (executive positions)

Compressed workweek***

401(k) fund conversion into Roth 401(k)

Automobile subsidy for business use of personal vehicle

Accelerated death benefits for terminal illnesses

Long-term care insurance

Wholesale generic drug program for injectable drugs

Credit union membership

Sign-on bonus (nonexecutive positions)

Onsite cafeteria subsidized by employer

Shift flexibility**

Paid travel expenses for spouse

*Allowing employees to make up time during the day due to a longer meal break or leave early due to a shorter meal break.

**Allowing employees to coordinate with co-workers to adjust their schedules.

***Allowing employees to work longer days in exchange for subsequent shorter days or a day off within a pay period.


Benefits that at least 5 percent of SHRM members plan to introduce in 2017:

Wellness programs, general

Health fairs

Wellness tips/information provided at least quarterly (newsletter, column, e-mail, tweets, etc.)

Rewards for completing health/wellness programs

Annual health risk assessment

Mentoring program

Executive or leadership coaching

Cross-training to develop skills not directly related to the job


Source: Society for Human Resource Management, 2017 Employee Benefits survey report.

(Click here to view infographic on a separate page.)

Other benefits also saw their prevalence surge but weren't included in earlier surveys back to 2013. For instance, telemedicine—medical diagnoses, treatment or prescriptions provided through phone or video consultation—saw an 11-percentage point spike over the past year (34 percent of employers now provide it).

HSAs Continue Their Climb

Health savings accounts (HSAs) coupled with high-deductible health plans continued to be added as a health plan option, and sometimes are the only available option. In 2017, 55 percent of employers offered an HSA, up from 42 percent in 2013, the survey revealed.

HSAs can be funded up to annual limits by employers, employees or both, and the survey shows an increase in the share of employers contributing to employees' HSAs, with 36 percent doing so in 2017, up from 26 percent in 2013. Other recent health benefit surveys have differed on whether employer contributions to HSAs are increasing, with some evidence suggesting that as the share of employers contributing to HSAs has climbed, the average amount of their contributions has fallen.

Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), which lack HSAs' portability and are solely funded by employers, seemed to stall over the same period, being offered by 20 percent of respondents with no statistically significant change. Meanwhile, offerings of medical flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which limit the funds that can be rolled over year to year, declined from 72 percent of respondents in 2013 to 65 percent this year.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Employee Benefits]

Financial and Career Benefits

More organizations are offering financial advice in 2017 compared with 2016, as well as five years ago. Nearly one-half (49 percent) provided some type of financial advice, whether it was online, one-on-one, or in a group or classroom format. "This benefit can help employees improve their financial management skills, plan how to manage debt, and hopefully alleviate stress and worry," Esen said.

A few organizations (4 percent) provide assistance in repaying student loan debt—a benefit that has stayed steady since it was added to the survey in 2015.

Lack of career advancement opportunities are a top reason why employees may leave an organization. "Although providing opportunities for promotions or transfers may not always be possible, offering employees professional development opportunities may help with succession planning, as well as create a more educated and talented workforce for the organization," Esen said.

Professional development benefits may also help mitigate recruitment challenges. Nearly one-half of HR professionals (48 percent) indicated that the most effective recruiting strategy for their organization was training existing employees to take on hard-to-fill positions.

More on the 2017 Employee Benefits Survey

SHRM Online has posted separate articles that delve into the survey's findings regarding:

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