Employers Plan Big Changes to Benefits and Perks in 2021

In keeping with the shift to widespread remote work due to COVID-19, many employers are exploring major changes to benefit programs and perks for 2021.

The fact that many employers are embracing total well-being should come as welcome news to employees who are placing greater importance on security and benefits. In fact, 37 percent of employees would rather receive more substantial benefits than additional salary or bonuses, according to a recent survey by HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson. 

Meanwhile, another recent survey by Prudential Insurance found that 52 percent of employees would leave their current job for one with the “right” benefits.

How do your benefits stack up?  To help you compare and lobby for the benefits and perks you want and deserve, here’s a preview of the trends for 2021.

Expanded Health Coverage

After access to routine health services became an issue during the lockdown, some 32 percent of employers are planning to add virtual care or telehealth services to existing health coverage, according to a study by Mercer, an HR consulting firm. This continues a trend that started prior to the pandemic.

“Addictions, substance abuse and mental health issues significantly increased during the lockdown, as well,” noted Julie Stich, VP of Content for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

Surveys show that two out of three employees feel more stressed than before the pandemic. To help employees deal with the strain of juggling work and kids and a lack of job security, many employers are looking to enhance expanded health coverage via online therapy, counseling and mental health services, Stich said.

Access to Financial Education and Wellness

Given the volatile economy, an increasing number of employers are providing financial and debt counseling, as well as student loan assistance, to help employees weather current and future financial storms.

Stich noted that some employers are going so far as to set up and make an initial deposit into an emergency savings account (ESAs) that lets employees build a rainy day fund through payroll deductions.

Growth of Health Reimbursement and Spending Accounts

Nearly half of large-company workers moved into high-deductible health plans (HDHP) in 2019, and that number continues to grow. However, with millions of Americans struggling financially, more companies are planning to offer some form of reimbursement or spending account (such as an HRA or HSA) that can be used to pay for coronavirus testing and treatments, prescriptions or medical supplies if they haven’t reached their deductible. 

Increased Sick Time

The CARES Act required certain employers to offer roughly two weeks of paid sick or parental leave for full-time employees in addition to their regular policy through December 31, 2020. Now, many employers are planning to extend their paid time off policy into 2021.

Offering Dependent Care and Flexible Work Schedules

Tech firms are getting “creative” when it comes to supporting their employees who are grappling with childcare, schoolwork or caring for an aging parent while working from home. For instance, some are providing subsidies to pay for tutors or homework monitors from a contracted provider. Twitter and others have launched virtual day camps, Zoom workshops, or provided access and funding for backup childcare services, such as Cleo.

Still others are providing flexible spending accounts (FSAs) that let you pay for a nanny, au pair or adult day care with pretax dollars, Stich noted. In fact, the pandemic is ushering in changes that technologists have wanted for years, such as flexible work hours.

“Employers are finally realizing that employees may need to work a split shift or evenings, yet they can still be productive,” Stich said. 

In fact, as we have reported, many tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have shown some additional flexibility with regard to employee schedules. Furthermore, Gallagher’s 2020 Benefits Strategy & Benchmarking Survey revealed that 86 percent of organizations plan to continue work from home after the pandemic; and 59 percent say flex scheduling will remain an option, as well.

Stipends Replace Foosball, Laundry Service and Catered Meals

Forget office snacks, onsite gyms, egg freezing and pet paternity leave; the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward perk consolidation and personalization, according to Amy Spurling, CEO and co-founder of Compt, a perk management platform.

Specifically, companies are empowering employees by providing stipends or allowances that can be used for things such as health and wellness, home office equipment and services, home meal delivery or continuous learning. The good news is that, depending on your location and how you spend the money, a stipend may provide some tax advantages when compared to working condition fringe benefits or perks that don’t meet IRS exclusion rules.

What should you expect to receive? Here are some examples, but many companies are offering new hires between $500 to $1,500 to set up their home office, while current employees receive $1,200 per year on average, Spurling said. Those firms have decided to put money and choice into the hands of their employees so they can get the perks they need and value most.