A year ago, when people thought of company benefits, they were often considered niceties that made a day at the office a bit more comfortable—whether it was a stocked kitchen, a game room with ping pong tables or early closure on Fridays. Consider that in 2019 companies were spending roughly $15k per month on office snacks and beverages—with 33 percent willing to spend more, according to one survey by ZeroCater.
Fast forward to today and those offices are empty, the ping pong tables are collecting dust and early-out Fridays don’t matter much when you’re starting and ending your work day at home.
Very few of the traditional office perks and benefits matter in the pandemic-induced remote work environment—and yet, retaining talent has never been more crucial. Losing and replacing a valued employee can cost a company 16-20 percent of the employee’s annual salary. For an employee earning $100,000 per year, the cost could be more than $16,000 for just one employee! In this environment, HR is scrambling to determine the benefits that help maintain employee engagement and overcome the remote work challenges of this pandemic.
More important than we might think
Benefits truly matter to today’s employees and have proven valuable in making employees feel recognized, cared for and appreciated. According to the American Institute of CPAs, 80 percent of US employees would prefer to stay in a job with benefits, than take one that offered more pay but no benefits.
Many companies have announced employees will remain remote until at least next summer. With remote work set to stick around at least through 2021—and far more remote working than pre-pandemic coming in the years ahead—it’s time for employers to rethink their benefits offering to focus on what really matters to employees.
Today, a critical task for HR is to gain a better understanding of what is occurring in their (virtual) workplace and help reassess company benefits to meet the needs of a dispersed and stressed workforce. During a recent webinar, Ryan Wright, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, discussed the shift that HR is currently seeing amid COVID-19 and the need for HR teams to realign priorities to meet the needs of today’s workforce.
“Do we need to reassess our vendors and are those vendors aligned with our new priorities?” asked Wright. “We’re going to see a reevaluation of the folks that are providing services to employees as companies navigate a new strategy.”
But this still leaves HR with the question of what are the benefits that truly matter to their employees? How can HR ensure that my company is maintaining a culture of benefits that drive employee engagement, in an all remote environment?
Less frills, more relevance
Ironically, most of those snack and game-related perks that we now consider staples never really made that much of a difference for employees - and could be seen more as golden handcuffs. The same study by the American Institute of CPAs found that, rather than snacks and yoga classes, more Americans felt that financially-relevant perks, such as contributions to a 401(k) or HSA, were more enticing benefits.
Employees value benefits that make them feel more financially secure. In addition to the above data, our own survey similarly found that employees rank financial wellness benefits higher than healthcare, paid time off and definitely the company snack room. Financial worries are plaguing the majority of Americans today and employers can play a pivotal role in supporting their employees, by realigning their company’s benefits to address today’s real challenges. Financial stress is at an all-time high due to the uncertainty with the pandemic—our data confirmed in October that nearly half (48 percent) of knowledge workers report feeling stressed or concerned about their personal finances, a spike of 9 percent from just three months prior.
Financial wellness needs to be a priority
Companies have the opportunity to have a meaningful impact in the financial well-being of their employees. Our same survey found that companies remain committed to investing in workplace benefits. 83 percent of HR professionals reported that their budgets have remained steady or have even increased. Imagine what can be done when the monthly $15k snack budget can be repurposed towards the financial health and wellness of your workforce.
Financial wellness can mean a variety of things. Some companies have taken the route of simply giving cash to employees during the pandemic - an altruistic, but temporary benefit. However, I am of the opinion that financial wellness, as a company benefit, is one that needs to be multifaceted, sustainable and adaptable to the goals of each employee - this means financial education, wellness programs, goals based planning, financial life management and much more. Total financial wellness is the goal, or a program that grows with your employees and enables them to achieve financial success at every stage of their life’s journey.
HR has the resources and the mandate. It’s time to invest in the benefits that truly matter to employees during these trying times.