Employee Perks and Benefits: Are You Keeping Up?

By: John Rossheim

Your company is determined to attract and retain A-players in these times of scarce talent. But how will you do so while meeting management’s mandate to cap the average raise at, say, 3 percent?

You’ve got to brand your organization as a provider of the mix of employee benefits that workers want in 2017.

What do we mean by benefits? Keep in mind that talent — especially the Millennial generation that now dominates the workplace — won’t put up with low-value perks.

“Millennials are a lot more mobile than their older colleagues,” says Justyn Harkin, a spokesperson for Jellyvision, which offers a communications platform for employee benefits. “If they don’t like what’s going on, they leave.”

Here are the key trends in benefits and perks that can help your organization win the talent tug-of-war of the late 2010s.

Drum roll: Benefits that are trending in 2017. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed its members of all sizes to determine what’s hot — and not — in the field of competition for benefits.

According to the survey, at least 5 percent of respondents said they plan to introduce one or more new benefits in 2017, such as wellness programs that might include health tips and rewards, health fairs, annual health risk assessments, mentoring programs and leadership coaching.

In uncertain times, health insurance is still the highest-value benefit. Health insurance continues to be an effective retention tool, especially given the uncertain future of the employer mandate to insure workers. “People are mainly concerned with health insurance, health savings accounts and high-deductible health plans,” says Harkin.

With their potential to extract thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, high-deductible health plans have earned greater scrutiny from employees and job candidates.

Highly profitable enterprises — whether large corporations or small professional services firms — are competing for talent by paying higher premiums for plans with lower deductibles.

Half of surveyed firms offer financial advice. Whether they are Millennials who came of age during the 2007-2009 recession or Gen Xers and Boomers who took a direct hit, workers are asking for help with their finances. And employers are responding by providing a financial education for employees.

“Financial advice benefits are trending upward, going from 28 percent in 2014 to 49 percent in 2017,” says the SHRM report. “If employers offer benefits for personal finance and retirement, that can really help relieve stress and anxiety, so workers can focus on their work,” says Tanya Mulvey, a researcher at SHRM.

Flex is bigger than ever. Employees in many different life situations seek flexible work options for at least a portion of their workday. Many employers are responding positively, hoping to reach hard-to-get talent pools such as highly-skilled women returning to the workforce.

“Flex doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg,” says Lenny Sanicola, a spokesperson for WorldAtWork. And flex is equally available to firms of all sizes.

Student loan repayment is very popular with young workers. “Loan repayment won’t work for everybody, but it will work for companies doing a lot of campus hiring,” says Sanicola. “It’s both an attractor and a retainer.”

Professional services firms are the small business sector most likely to be able to afford the substantial out-of-pocket for this benefit.

Mature workers seek 401(k) match. Gen Xers and Boomers care about health insurance — but they care even more about the employer’s match of 401(k) contributions, says Harvey Bass, CEO of recruitment firm Stascom Technologies, an affiliate of MRINetwork.

Staffing firms that match their associates’ retirement contributions can earn substantial employee loyalty — a rare commodity in the temp industry.

Professional development bridges generation gaps. It may not reflect well on American employers that professional development is now often pitched as a fringe benefit rather than a business necessity — but that is the case.

“Professional development benefits are important at all career levels, including people late in their careers,” says Mulvey. Small, mid-sized and large companies and staffing firms are equally well positioned to offer professional development in one form or another.

For some employees, convenience perks add up. Are trendy fringe benefits valued by employees as much as they cost employers? In some cases, yes.

“Perks like house cleaning services, on-site dry cleaning and access to local pet care providers — they may sound superfluous,” says Al Zink, senior vice president of human resources at Care.com. “But when these benefits are packaged with flexibility, family care and tuition assistance, they reduce work-life conflict.”

What benefits do your employees want? Ask them. Only 31 percent of employees who say they use benefits as a talent strategy actually collect data on the value of specific benefits to employees, according to a SHRM survey. For companies of all sizes, failing to ask employees what benefits they want is a big mistake.

“We use surveys and engagement processes that help us understand what our employees want,” says Matthew Owenby, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Aflac. “We survey every 18 months or so.”

Flaunt your benefits with job candidates. Does your company spell out the key features and value of the key benefits you provide? Be sure to highlight them in your job descriptions — and reiterate them when you first meet with a candidate. “A lot of employers don’t include benefits in their recruiting materials,” says Harkin.

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