The pandemic’s sweeping impacts shifted how, when, and where millions of people work. Firms that previously did not allow remote working under any circumstances changed their tune and offered flexible working options.
As part of this broader change, companies also altered the benefits they offered to new hires and existing workers. As the pandemic fades and the economy recovers, firms will need to remain competitive by attracting and retaining top talent, who will have expansive employment options. Expanding benefits is needed to keep these workers happy and engaged.
Here are some suggestions for benefits administrators, HR managers, and department heads for picking post-COVID benefits that resonate:
Ergonomic Workstations and Work-from-Home Allowances
Firms like Facebook, REI, Infosys, Slack, and many others are allowing some or all employees to work remotely permanently. These companies shifted during the pandemic and saw the long-term benefits in terms of productivity, employee happiness, and reduced capital costs.
As this movement to the home office continues, employers are also offering home-centric benefits, which include:
- Expanded reimbursement policies for items such as office supplies, printers and laptops, home Internet service, office furniture, and other expenditures that make remote working more productive;
- Periodic employer-covered food delivery to mimic “free lunch Fridays” and other traditional in-office perks;
- High-quality webcam and microphone setups to enable crisper and more professional virtual conferencing; and
- Monthly or annual stipends for employees working remotely to provide them with extra funding for home office and electronics needs.
Student Loan Reimbursement
As COVID-19 continues to restrict the economy, many workers feel additional pressures from student loan debt. Student loan debt has increased more than twofold over the last 20 years, and at the end of 2020, U.S. borrowers owed approximately $1.7 trillion in loans—an amount that eclipses all other forms of debt outside of mortgages.
Despite the burdens of student loan debt, few U.S. employers offer reimbursement assistance. Companies can use reimbursement as a competitive differentiator that shows they’re interested in their employees’ financial health and are hoping to improve employee loyalty and retention.
Flexible Work Hours
Remote work changed the “where” for workers but didn’t always adjust the “when.” Many employees still expected their staff to follow traditional working hours and expected online activity and correspondence during those time frames. As remote working becomes a standard practice, more staff members will desire flexible hours, giving them time to pick up their kids from school or go to the dentist without taking a formal sick day.
More flexible arrangements are already in the works at some companies, like U.K. accounting giant PwC, which gives employees the ability to set their own hours. They can choose to condense their week into fewer days, start earlier, and make arrangements that fit work into their personal lives. Salesforce went as far to declare the traditional 9–5 workweek “dead” and instead proposes a flexible arrangement that fits the modern economy.
Mental and Physical Health Offerings
COVID-19 sparked a mental health awareness and treatment movement. The pandemic caused isolation and depression, but it also opened people up to discussions about mental health. Employers are stepping in to provide free or discounted access to therapists and mental health apps that are part of a broader workplace health program.
To boost remote workers’ physical health, some companies are offering stipends for the purchase of workout equipment such as Peloton bikes or treadmills. They might offer access to virtual platforms such as Trainiac, which provides one-on-one online personal training, or other services that offer video-based yoga or fitness routines.
Protection for Bella, Luna, or Baxter
The term “COVID Puppy” or “quarantine dog” became part of the cultural language in 2020 and 2021. People who were under stress and stuck at home looked to adopt dogs at an accelerated rate, but many of these owners neglected pet insurance during their excitement.
Employers can offer pet insurance as a perk, which is especially attractive to Millennial hires, who comprise the biggest pet-owning demographic and are willing to spend significant sums on their dogs they consider family members. Some employers are integrating pet health insurance within the enrollment process for supplementary insurance so it becomes a monthly deduction like traditional health and dental plans for humans.
Companies that shift their benefits packages in response to COVID-19 show they’re responsive to the new cultural and professional reality. This empathetic approach will pay dividends in improved employee retention numbers, as workers will feel respected and valued while enjoying the flexibility of working from home. Improving and expanding benefits offerings also drive the creation of a strong and modern brand presence that can attract top-tier new hires who will position the company for innovation and growth.