Then the events of 2020 happened. Back in March, most companies thought remote work was temporary, but as we head into a new year, it’s clear 2020 will be changing the work environment for years to come. An October Gallup survey found that 53 percent of workers are either still “sometimes” remote or fully remote. The same survey found that close to two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely would like to stay that way instead of returning to the office.
More people working remotely mean that benefits like gym memberships, plentiful snacks, free lunches and aesthetically pleasing office spaces with nap pods and pool tables no longer work. It’s time for companies to rethink their workplace benefits for the long-term.
So, what benefits and perks are workers really looking for in 2021? These 7 offerings are at the top of employees’ lists as the workplace faces more unknowns next year.
1. New (and better) health benefits
With a slow return to physical offices, telehealth and virtual wellness programs have increased in popularity, according to a survey by Aflac. Through telehealth solutions, more people can access healthcare professionals in a convenient and safe way. Similarly, a Willis Towers Watson survey found that 80% of surveyed companies plan to offer or expand access to virtual mental health services. That’s especially important now, when more people are experiencing anxiety, fear and isolation as a result of the pandemic.
2. Child care assistance
The same survey from Willis Towers Watson also noted that child care assistance became more important in 2020 and is expected to remain at the top of the list for many employees in 2021. That applies both to those employees who are working from home as well as those who must leave home.
Employees who are parents are juggling work productivity and child care in a way they haven’t before; their children are learning virtually or many on a hybrid in-class/virtual basis. Companies that provide child care assistance either on-site or through subsidies and discounts will give their employees further peace of mind in resolving an expensive and stressful dilemma.
3. Flexible payment options
The pandemic has exacerbated financial woes for many U.S. households, 46% of which report serious money troubles since the pandemic began. Many people have had job loss in their household or had to face cuts to their hours or pay.
On top of these struggles, the vast majority of employees still have to wait two weeks for a paycheck, which can leave them in a bind when bills are due. More flexible paydays are one of the smartest benefits you can provide employees going into 2021. The ability to choose how often they get paid—even as often as daily—can provide a sense of relief for employees and give them more financial security. Being able to manage their cash flow more effectively means they can save more and cover unexpected expenses rather than turning to payday loans with exorbitant fees and interest, furthering their financial strain.
4. Additional paid time off
The Hartford Insurance Company also conducted a study this year to see how employee perspectives about benefits have changed. The company surveyed both employees and employers twice, once in March and again in July. Between those dates, the percentage of employees who wanted time off rose from 31% to 52%. Employees said they wanted to have this paid time off to help sick family members, get through a quarantine period and handle additional family responsibilities.
5. Financial wellness programs
In recent years, companies have started to pay more attention to benefits that help increase employee productivity by addressing their financial stress. These programs address different aspects of financial wellness, including debt management, financial counseling, student loan relief and deposits made to Emergency Savings Accounts (ESAs).
The financial uncertainties of 2020, combined with the new work-from-home reality, have led to a greater interest in stipends. These allowances are offered to help employees with costs that might have otherwise been covered by in-office perks.
For example, employees can use stipends for home office equipment, apps and software, home meal delivery, health and wellness, home cleaning and learning and development programs. Providing these stipends lets employees decide how to best use the money since their needs may vary.
7. More flex time
In this remote world, allowing employees to telecommute once or twice a week no longer checks the box of offering more flex time. Consequently, it’s time for companies to develop a new approach for accommodating employees’ needs at home.
Daily flexible work hours can help those with young children who need their attention during school hours. Employees who moved their aging parents into their homes during the pandemic may need some time to care for their parents throughout the day. This may involve allowing split shifts or evening and weekend hours in lieu of time off during weekdays.
Employee perks should go beyond a pandemic
The past year has been full of challenges, but it’s also uncovered opportunities for employers to be better about meeting employee needs and evaluate their workplace perks and benefits. Many companies have been able to learn from these new changes and embrace the advantages of remote work. The challenge going forward will be executing on a holistic approach to employee benefits now that work and home environments are one and the same for many. Committing to offering programs and perks that address employee health and wellness, financial stress, unpredictable childcare needs and more will be key to retaining employees through 2021 and beyond.