The pandemic has disrupted global workplaces in ways that nobody could have imagined. In the U.S. alone, COVID-19 forced many of the estimated 30.7 million small and medium-sized businesses to either lay off employees, shut their offices or seek the help through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Given that the virus is apt to continue to surge this year, according to the World Health Organization, employers will have to continue to ensure that their employees remain healthy, motivated and engaged in this period of distress. A wise economic choice for business owners is that they continue to adapt their benefits to meet the changing needs of employees during the pandemic.
Now that working from home become part of the new normal for many, employers are being forced to reimagine what kinds of perks, benefits and incentives will keep employees engaged and offer a competitive advantage. Benefits that only made sense when long commutes and face time were the default may be waning in importance.
Nearly 98% of the 500 HR leaders and C-suite executives in a recent Care.com survey said they plan to offer or expand at least one employee benefit to prioritize those workers deem most essential, such as child and senior care benefits, flexibility around when and where work gets done, and expanded mental health support. And 63% of respondents indicated they intend to increase existing child care benefits. Meanwhile, many businesses are meeting their employees changing needs by coming up with a variety of innovative programs.
How employers are managing workplace culture during COVID-19
The Society for Human Resource Management reports that COVID-19 has created a “we’re all in this together” workplace culture in many organizations. This has prompted many employers to act to implement programs to assist employees dealing with physical and mental health issues, child care conundrums, financial stress and isolation from their co-workers.
To address pandemic-related issues, many employers have started offering:
- Online health care services
- Virtual counseling
- Extended annual leave
- Food coupons
- Virtual wellness classes
- Children’s activities (for employees’ children)
- Cooking classes
- Virtual contests
- Fun activities for team building
- Discount programs and virtual celebratory gatherings
Others have launched an array of miscellaneous perks aimed at boosting quality of life, like:
- Virtual yoga/workout sessions
- Extended vacation balanced with working hours
- Stress management programs
- Virtual guest speakers
- Offering over the top media and streaming services
- Gift cards
- Matching employees’ donations to charities
- Allowing casual attire at work
- Employee surveys
- A return-to-work option
Which benefits are most relevant to employees today in the eyes of HR?
HR specialists note there are four employer offerings in particular that will resonate in the modern workplace. Many are already being implemented at various companies―and are already gaining in popularity. These programs have the greatest potential to contribute to employees’ happiness and well-being, experts say
- Managed fertility benefit: Family-building benefits are increasingly in demand among employees, some of whom are choosing to start a family later in life and are more likely to need assisted reproductive tech. Options include bridging funds built into the employment contract, directly paying for the selected network doctor and covering any medication needed, enrolling employees into a medical coverage program provided by a local managed care organization, or enrolling employees in a specialized hospital service that includes a medical care team for treatment of infertility.
- Mental health benefit: Stress sometimes isn’t something that can just be “managed,” and mental health can affect every aspect of a person’s life. During the pandemic, some employers have started hosting meditation sessions and yoga classes for employees to help them deal with depression and anxiety, and to boost their mental health. Some employers are tapping into consultation videos from licensed clinical psychologists, physical fitness trainers, nutritionists and rehabilitation experts.
- Pet insurance: Companies with a higher percentage of millennials and Generation Z workers are increasingly open to employer-sponsored pet insurance. Pet insurance has come to be viewed as akin to providing family medical insurance among employees who don’t have children.
- Sponsored tuition: Tuition assistance is quickly becoming a basic tenet of HR at some firms. Sponsoring an employee’s education for specific curriculum not only reduces their cost burden but also allows them to focus on building skills relevant to their job.
Survey illuminates the perks employees say they want most in 2021
According to a survey by London-based Perkbox, employees commonly point to several benefits that they believe would improve their happiness in 2021:
- 52% said employee discounts would make them happier.
- 42% said receiving greater recognition for their work would make them happier.
- 74% said a pay raise would make them happy.
- 24% prefer their employer retain office cost savings, accrued from employees working from home, for the business’ financial security.
- Among remote employees, money toward household bills was the No. 1 requested perk.
- Among employees who don’t work remotely, free breakfast or lunch was the most sought-after perk.