Career and Jobs

5 Workplace Benefits On The Rise In 2021 And Beyond

Last week I was checking in with a recent client who had some exciting news. A few months back, she left her job because it just wasn’t the right fit, and she knew she needed to make a change.  

Over many conversations, together we agreed to steer her job search toward a different industry, and before you know it, she’s calling to tell me that she’s gotten several offers! I’m so proud of her, and I know that she is thrilled to embark on the next phase of her career. 

Only one thing left to do: accept one of the offers. This might seem simple, but especially these days while we are navigating remote work and onboarding from behind a screen, it can be hard to get a real feel for a certain company.  

Of the offers that my client is weighing, the job descriptions seem fairly similar, and the salaries are comparable. 

Now, my advice for this situation is usually simple: look at the benefits. I’ve always thought that the benefits that a company provides can really say a lot about a company’s culture, what they value and how they treat their employees. But over the past year, a lot has changed about what we value and seek in company benefits. 

This conversation got me thinking, how has the pandemic changed our expectations for workplace benefits, and how have companies stepped up to show that they are adapting to the changing landscape of work, and to employees’ needs and expectations. 

This topic has come up a lot recently, in conversations with my clients, and in readings and data I’m analyzing, so I wanted to dive in deep. How has the pandemic changed workplace benefits? What changes are here to stay, and what can we expect not to expect once Covid-19 is behind us?

Here are 5 workplace benefits that are on the rise in 2021. 

1) Childcare and family benefits

The many changes and challenges of the pandemic were felt acutely by working parents. The rise of remote work, closure of schools and subsequent remote learning and the difficulty of physically isolating within family units all contributed to added burden for working families.  

These and other related issues have brought conversations about family and childcare benefits from employers to the forefront for recruiters, working professionals and HR representatives. 

The rise in interest and investment in family and childcare benefits throughout 2020 was noted by family benefits company Cleo. In 2020, Cleo saw a 167% increase in membership, and also formed major partnerships with companies including Salesforce and Pinterest.

According to Cleo CEO Sarahjane Sacchetti, the demand for comprehensive family benefits programs was already on the rise pre-Covid, but the pandemic brought the need for such programs into sharp relief. 

“This conversation about parents and working families was growing in urgency with employers, but I think COVID has really cemented that this is going to be at top strategy for employers moving forward,” Sachetti told Employee Benefit News. 

A recent Sage survey provides data to back up Sachetti’s assessment of the state of family benefits. Throughout the pandemic, 27% of businesses invested in “non-traditional” benefits including childcare stipends and flexible work arrangements. 

According to the study, 99% of businesses intend to continue the same level of childcare support and child-friendly work practices. 

2) Home office expenses

Another area in which businesses are investing in new benefits to keep up with the changing landscape of remote work is by providing assistance to support remote workers in setting up their home offices.

Early in the pandemic, many major companies made public their support for newly remote staff members and their home offices, with companies like Shopify, Indeed and Basecamp offering stipends between $500 and$1000.  A survey conducted in the early months of Covid-19 found that 1 in 5 companies was committed to helping pay for remote workers’ home office expenses. 

With the rise in vaccinations, we are likely to begin seeing more offices reopening, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that remote work or the resulting benefits will come to an end. 

According to a recent survey, 92% of remote workers expect to continue to work from home at least one day per week, and 80% expect they’ll be telecommuting at least three days per week. 

A December 2020 study on the future of work conducted by Upwork examined the transition from temporary remote work to long-term work strategies. The findings predicted that by 2025, 22% of the American workforce would be working remotely, which represents a 87% increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

As of Fall 2020, 42% of HR leaders reported increased investment in allowances and reimbursements for home office expenses. As remote work continues in many industries, and some companies transition permanently to hybrid models with a mix of remote and in-person work, we are likely to see companies respond with continued support for the home office needs of workers. 

3) Mental health support

The many challenges of Covid-19 have certainly had significant impacts on the mental health of many workers, and made clear the need for companies to provide comprehensive mental health benefits. 

Data shows a significant increase in self-reported instances of mental health distress as a result of the pandemic. In January 2021, 41% of adults reported feeling symptoms of depression or anxiety, a number up considerably from January 2019 data, which indicated only 11% of adults experiencing anxiety or depression.  

Perhaps it took a collective trauma such as the Covid-19 pandemic for many employers to finally begin to prioritize staff mental health, but some companies seem to be catching on the need to provide better support to staff.  As of an October 2020 study, 32% of employers had allocated an increased amount of resources for mental health benefits in direct response to Covid-19. 

There is also hope that as mental health becomes an increasingly pressing and publicly-acknowledged issue, companies and industries will catch up with their benefits. 

In December 2020, McKinsey published a report entitled “Mental health in the workplace: The coming revolution.” This paper details the critical need for better mental health services, not only in terms of company benefits, but through the entire healthcare system. 

This issue is not just one of ethics, but also of economics, with workers’ long-term job performance directly impacted by their overall mental health. 

Recognition of the importance of mental health benefits may be on the rise, but there is still work to be done to make sure that employees have access to the resources and care they need. 

4) Remote work and flexible schedules

While many have historically been skeptical about whether remote work would impact productivity and company workflow, the past year has proven that many workers can execute their jobs as well as if not better while working from home. 

Data suggested that worker productivity has been strong throughout the recent rise in remote work due to Covid-19. A recent study indicated that 94%  of employers felt that staff work-from-home productivity was the same or better than when workers were in the office. 

In addition, in a study from January 2020, 83% of employers stated that the transition to remote work had been a successful one. When compared to the 73% of employers surveyed in June 2020, these numbers indicated the continued and growing success of remote work practices. 

It’s not only the job performance of remote workers that will drive the continued practices of remote work and hybrid schedules—remote work has also saved employers a lot of money. Some predict that remote work could save a company up to $22,000 annually per worker!

Most workers who have transitioned to remote work would like to stay remote, at least part of the time. A FlexJobs survey found that 96% of workers want to continue to be remote in some capacity, with 65% desiring to stay remote full time. 

With all these factors in favor of remote work, many employers will be looking to extend remote options beyond the point that it is safe to return in earnest to full-time in-person work. A Gartner study found that 80% of employers expect to allow staff to continue to work remote, at least part of the time, after the end of the pandemic. 

Recently remote workers have gotten used to the flexibility of remote work and many may be reluctant to return to the regular nine-to-five in-person work life. Hybrid models, in which employees work partially remote and partially in person, offer the flexibility that workers crave, and combine the best of office culture with a more pragmatic and cautious approach to reopening.

5) Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups are also described as “affinity groups,” or “Business Resource Groups.” ERGs offer workers the opportunity to support one another, especially among those who share a racial, ethnic or gender identity, sexual orientation, or even status as parents. These groups operate with the goal of promoting a more inclusive and diverse work environment and creating a company culture that matches. 

The summer 2020 protests led by the Movement for Black Lives have brought into sharp relief the need to address ongoing bias and racialized discrimination in all aspects of our society. 

In addition, the many challenges of Covid-19 were felt most acutely by marginalized groups, essential workers and working parents. 

Within this climate, many are seeking a space within their place of work in which they can share experiences and address with co-workers and peers identity-related issues within their companies and organizations. 

Much progress has been made over the last year to create more inclusive workplaces and greater accountability as related to diversity, equity and inclusion. However, there is much more work to be done to address inclusivity in the workplace. 

Investment in ERGs can provide an excellent space in which to confront these issues, as well as an opportunity to provide staff with resources, support and opportunities for professional development.

As pressures to address issues related to diversity and inclusion continue to mount, we are likely to see more companies putting resources toward supporting employee-led ERGs. 

Multinational pasta company Barilla provides an excellent example of how to support and encourage diversity through ERGs. A company of about 8,400 employees, Barilla launched its first ERG in 2015 with just 20 members. Today, the company has 15 ERGs or affinity groups with roughly 1,400 members. 

This is the type of progress and policy that can really move the needle when it comes to DEI. 

While this has been a challenging year for many businesses, I’m heartened to see that many in the world of work are realizing that providing support and benefits to staff is not only the right thing to do, but actually good business. We can only hope that the examination of and investment in comprehensive benefits to support staff will continue as we move into the next phase of the post-Covid world.

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