In the 20 years since the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) began tracking employee benefits trends, the biggest shift in employers’ offerings has been in adopting a perk that costs little or nothing yet is deemed priceless by today’s workforce: telecommuting.
Telecommuting benefits have increased threefold from 1996, when 20 percent of companies offered the option, to today, as 60 percent of organizations allow employees to work from locations outside the office, according to SHRM’s 2016 Employee Benefits research report. Other employer-provided offerings that have gained ground over the past two decades include:
• Legal assistance.
• Professional memberships.
• Professional development.
• Wellness programs.
Conversely, during that same period, organizations reduced the use of several financial and compensation-related benefits, including:
• Credit union membership.
• Employee loans for emergency/disaster assistance.
• Parking subsidies.
• Employee stock purchase plans.
These trends show that organizations have responded to the shifting needs of their businesses and workforces. The demand for more-flexible work arrangements, along with advances in technology, brought about the big increase in telecommuting (although job sharing, which was part of the same workflex wave, did not have staying power). No doubt, the low cost of allowing offsite work also contributed to the growth of such arrangements.
Today, as employers face a tighter job market and stiffer competition for talent, monetary benefits appear to be rebounding. Compared to five years ago, organizations are more likely to give bonuses for employee referrals, notable performance (spot awards), executive and nonexecutive signings, and nonexecutive retentions.
The challenge for HR professionals is to maintain—and improve—the benefits they know are critical to attracting talent while keeping costs under control. Recent changes in health and wellness policies reflect that reality. While health and wellness benefits are among the offerings employees value most, they also carry high price tags that continue to rise. Perhaps that’s why many employers report having increased their overall investment in wellness, which can help offset the cost of medical coverage, while scaling back on individual offerings such as flu vaccinations, lifestyle coaching and insurance discounts for healthy behaviors.
Benefits will continue to represent a large expense for employers, but most leaders realize that they are an investment worth making in order to attract and retain the best employees. It’s up to HR practitioners to vigilantly maintain data on how satisfied employees are with the options available to them and to ensure that they know—and can explain to leadership—how changes to offerings can influence recruiting, retention and morale. When HR professionals neglect to take a strategic view of benefits, they also fail to help their organizations secure the top talent they need to excel.
Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.