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12 Unconventional Workplace Benefits Employees Want You To Offer

Compensation will probably always be the single most important factor in deciding to take a new job or stay with a current one. But employee benefits and perks can also make a big difference. Like so many other things, the pandemic has changed what people value in these “extra” offerings. Read on to learn how you can make your workplace stand out with alternative benefits offerings.

It probably comes as no surprise that in our transforming world of work, the top things employees want from an employer are different than they were before the pandemic. When most of us were physically present in an office, it made sense for perks—like fitness centers, free lunches, and yes, maybe a ping-pong table—to be centered around the in-person experience. But today, with a distributed workforce—some working from home, others in the office—the focus has shifted.

What do today’s employees want when it comes to job perks?

Support for mental wellness tops the list and is one of the basics of a well-being program. In a survey conducted by Calm for Business in October 2021, 97% of respondents said that employers should be working to improve the mental health of their employees, and 76% said that mental health benefits were critical to them when evaluating a new job. It makes sense. The pandemic has underscored how critical our mental and emotional health is to staying happy, healthy, and productive.

Employees are also looking for employers to support them in their lives outside of work. We spent a lot of time pre-pandemic trying to maintain the silos between our work and home lives. When work shifted to home for many employees, this became impossible. So, how does this translate into benefits? More support for child and elder care, a robust well-being program, greater flexibility in work location and hours worked, increased parental and caregiver leave, and more time off in general.

Personal finance also became a greater concern and source of stress for employees during the pandemic. Employees now want employers to support them with things like budgeting, debt repayment assistance, and help saving for a major purchase.

And what about that physical workspace? For some companies, it no longer exists. But for those organizations who believe some in-person office time is critical to corporate culture, the office will likely need an overhaul. Those who appreciated the focus time they had working from home will need a dedicated working space without distractions in the office. That said, there also needs to be a space for collaboration and teamwork. If your office doesn’t have intentional areas like these, it may be time to plan a thoughtful redesign.

We’ll also have to solve for the fact that meetings may have both in-person and remote attendees. If you’ve ever been the lone remote person on a call, you know how hard it is to keep pace. Companies will have to invest in the latest technology to ensure that they provide a good experience to all workers.

Those are some of the major themes around what workplace wellness benefits employees want today. Check out this list for more examples and specific unique benefits you can offer.

12 non-traditional benefits employees want now.

1. Mental health benefits.

Caring for mental health is one of the biggest workplace wellness trends—and one we hope will become permanent. Enhanced Employee Assistance Program benefits, apps that link people directly to a counselor, mindfulness and meditation programs, and mental health days are pretty much table stakes for an employer looking to retain people and attract new talent.

2. Flexibility in working hours, days, and location.

Younger workers, especially, want the freedom to structure their workweek in a way that makes the most sense for them. This might mean a compressed workweek or alternate work hours. Working remotely is also a huge factor in people deciding to stay with a current job or take a new one.

3. More time off.

Employees are craving more time away from work—even if they’re not taking a proper vacation. Increased vacation time and even unlimited vacation policies are popular. We’re also seeing company-wide three-day weekends, mandated week-long shutdowns, holiday closings, and time off to volunteer.

4. Caregiver support.

The pandemic highlighted how broken our childcare system is. Some employers are responding with onsite daycare, office learning pods during school closures, childcare allowances, and backup childcare options. Time off to care for older family members can also be a necessary and valuable benefit. If your family benefits are lacking compared to other organizations these days, it may be time to consider an update—as time goes on, I imagine that family leave options will become a bigger expectation for employees.

5. Opportunities for social connections.

Employees are looking to employers to provide forums for social connection—especially since so many people are still working remotely. Whether it’s an in-person gathering or a virtual get-together, employers need to offer ways for employees to connect and maintain a strong workplace culture.

There are easy ways to do this. At WebMD Health Services, we recently set up virtual water cooler chats every other week, where employees can log on and talk about things that aren’t work-related. Some discussions have a theme or topic, but others are open-ended. We also set up chat channels for employees working from the same state to talk about local goings-on and plan a meetup if they wanted to. And as always, we love to sprinkle in some virtual trivia and Bingo days!

6. A more modern workplace.

New spaces that make people feel welcome; places for collaboration as well as focused work; floor plans that can be manipulated for collaboration; creating a relaxing atmosphere with biophilia—plants, greenery, and fountains—and natural lighting will be key to supporting employees who prefer an office setting.

7. Help with finances.

Employees used to assume the companies they worked for only helped them with retirement in the form of 401(k)s. But now, they’re expecting help with student debt, investments, planning for big purchases, and learning common topics like managing debt and creating a budget. Some popular perks that employers can offer include student loan debt repayment programs, identity theft protection, tuition reimbursement, help with budgeting, and financial counseling.

8. A comfortable WFH setup.

Those continuing to work remotely want allowances to set up their workspace properly. Maybe they’ve been working from the kitchen table this whole time and need a more ergonomic chair. Or perhaps they’ve been working off a laptop and would be more productive if they had a second monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Stipends can help people set up workspaces that work best for their role and preferences, as well as help cover costs that would typically be covered in the office, like printing or using the internet.

9. Ways to stay physically active.

People want help staying active throughout the day, which is great—getting moving and taking a break from work can increase focus and productivity. Some examples that organizations can offer include online fitness class subscriptions for at-home workouts, subsidies for fitness equipment, and group exercise classes and walking trails for those who are onsite.

At WebMD Health Services, we also use wellness challenges to encourage people to stay active. For example, our Invitational Team Steps Challenge allows participants to compete in small groups to tally the most steps per week, all while motivating them to get outside, get social, and engage in a little healthy competition. It’s always a hit, both for our own employees as well as our clients!

10. Family planning benefits.

Help with family planning remains popular among employees looking to grow their families. This benefit should go beyond just supporting women—instead, it should extend to every person looking to expand their family. Remember to incorporate LGBTQ+ friendly family planning benefits so that your offerings are equitable across all employees. Some things I’ve seen employers offer recently include longer family leave times, additional time off for pregnancy loss, and support in areas like fertility treatments, adoption processes, and surrogacy planning.

11. Addiction support.

A study we conducted in Fall 2020 found that nearly 50% of respondents felt employers should offer support for pain medication addiction. This is a big topic that typically goes unaddressed at work. In fact, researchers are observing both increased quantity and frequency of substance use during the pandemic.1 The sad truth is that our employees may need support, but we aren’t aware that they’re struggling. Organizations could send reminders to employees about their Employee Assistance Programs to help with addiction. I’ve also seen great outcomes when employers add a confidential, third-party addiction support vendor to their benefits programs. These solutions provide help without employees worrying that their company will find out what they’re going through or that their job is at risk.

12. Employee Resource Groups.

While not necessarily a “perk,” an inclusive environment is a crucial differentiator for employers. Employee resource groups (ERGs) provide a safe place to connect and share with like-minded coworkers. I recommend empowering employees to create and maintain their groups so they can share things they’re interested in and get other people involved without feeling like everything is mandated and overseen by leadership. Some popular resource groups I’ve come across include networks for DE&I, women, working parents, interests in sustainability, advocacy, young professionals, book clubs, and more!

In today’s job market, where workers are exercising choice in the employers they want to work for, the importance of offering non-traditional benefits can’t be underestimated. However, keep in mind that whatever you choose to include, employee perks must align with your company culture and organizational goals. And if you don’t know what your employees want, ask! Listening is the best way to ensure that the perks and benefits you offer actually meet employee expectations.

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