10 benefits trends to be thankful for this year

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By Alyssa Place and Caroline Hroncich

Employees and benefit managers alike are giving thanks for a number of benefits this holiday season — everything from newer benefits like student loan repayment and breast milk shipping, to HSAs and paid parental leave.

Employees are looking for more comprehensive benefits that will improve not just their work life but their overall well-being outside of the office. Companies are responding by expanding their benefits options across the board, increasing productivity, retaining top talent and lowering an employer’s bottom line.

The editors of Employee Benefit News took a look at some of the benefits employers are boosting and selected 10 that employees are grateful for this year.

Student loan repayment
Just about 8% of employers offer a student loan repayment benefit, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Although this may seem like a small number, it’s actually more than doubled since 2018.

With the student loan debt crisis surpassing $1.5 trillion, employers are looking for new ways to lessen worker’s loan burden. For example, PwC has paid back nearly $26 million in worker student loan debt. Ally Financial and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts also are helping employees pay back loans.
Paid parental leave
Employees are increasingly seeking additional time to bond with a new child — and employers are answering the call. A host of companies including Bloomberg, Diageo, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and J.M. Smucker Company all recently boosted their parental leave benefits.

Regardless, a small number of employers offer paid parental leave — just 27% of companies provide the benefit to employees, SHRM reports.
Caregiving benefits
About 77 million Americans are current or former caregivers, according to LIMRA. Employers have started paying more attention to workers who are struggling to care for a sick family member. Vendors Wellthy, Cariloop and Torchlight have all appeared on the scene to help employers deal with the crisis. Companies including Voya Financial, Hulu, Starbucks, Amgen and Brinker International all offer caregiving benefits to employees.
Mental health benefits
Ignoring mental health issues could come with a hefty price tag for employers. It is estimated that unengaged workers, a consequence of mental health disorders and stress, cost the U.S. between $483 billion to $605 billion a year in lost productivity. Luckily, about 83% of employers offer mental health coverage, SHRM says.

Quest Diagnostics recently launched a pilot program to help 3,000 of its employees get better access to high-quality mental healthcare. The program — which was introduced in collaboration with Johns Hopkins HealthCare and behavioral health tool emVitals — is meant to reduce stress and improve overall mental health.
Tax-advantaged health accounts like HSAs
Total HSA assets have surpassed $60 billion, with the number of accounts sitting at around 26 million, according to research from Devenir. HSAs offer a number of advantages for employees — everything from helping them to cover the cost of qualified medical expenses to saving for retirement. Just over half of employers offer an HSA to their workforce, SHRM reports.
Pet insurance
Benefits are no longer just for employees: more companies are offering perks for pets too. According to SHRM, 15% of U.S. employers now offer a pet insurance benefit and companies like Uber, Amazon and Petco all allow pets into the workplace.

Not only does this benefit provide financial relief for employees dealing with expensive vet bills, workers in pet-friendly offices reported being happier and more engaged. Additionally, in Mars Petcare’s annual report, 87% of employers said promoting dog-friendly policies helps attract and retain more talent.
Financial wellness benefits
Financial stress is a burden for many employees: 40% of workers had health issues due to financial stress and three in ten said financial stress impacts their job performance.

But taking care of an employee’s financial wellness benefits their overall health. According to a report by Prudential, 60% of employees say they are more productive at work when their employer demonstrates a commitment to employees’ financial wellness.

Chipotle recently extended their financial wellness benefit by offering 24/7 access to mental health, financial and legal support beginning in 2020. Removing financial barriers can set employees up for success in the workplace and beyond.
Breast milk shipping
More companies are supporting new mothers by providing breast milk shipping benefits for employees travelling for work. Hilton, Oxfam and Kholer joined Milk Stork’s provider list this year, and the company currently serves more than 500 employers. Since 2015, Milk Stork has shipped more than two million ounces of breast milk.

Expanding benefits offered to working moms boosts engagement and helps employees feel more supported by their companies. Limeade reported employees are twice as engaged at work and four times less likely to suffer from burnout when they feel their company cares about them.
Wellness programs
Overall wellness is a top priority for employees and workplaces are responding by catering to a range of physical and mental health needs. About 58% of employers offered wellness programs in 2019 and employees are more productive and happier when these benefits are offered. Companies are getting creative when it comes to getting their employees on board. The School District of Lee County in Fort Myers, Florida, for example, uses a zombie-themed walking challenge to keep employees physically fit.

When it comes to mental health, more companies are offering 24/7 access to mental health professionals. Employees reported mental health was more important than their physical health in a report by Healthfitness. Providing comprehensive wellness is the key to retaining happier employees and lowering healthcare costs.
Unlimited PTO
Unlimited paid time off is a coveted benefit that is becoming more common: according to Indeed, job postings advertising unlimited PTO rose 178% from 2015 to 2019. And 72% of workers said PTO was their top-requested benefit. While PTO is a typical benefit for startups, larger industry leaders like General Electric, Glassdoor and Kronos all offer this policy.

Unlimited vacation and PTO point to a growing trend of personalized benefits: one size no longer fits all. Companies are responding by offering more flexible benefits packages tailored to the needs of many different generations of workers.