It’s a simple equation. Happy employees equal high-quality work and productivity, and that benefits everyone.
But the COVID-19 pandemic challenged even the best companies with lockdowns, mask mandates, virus testing, and sick employees. The workplace changed, as did employee attitudes toward employers—as illustrated by the “Great Resignation,” or the “Great Reshuffling,” which saw thousands of employees seeking out new and better employers or leaving the workforce entirely.
Given this, and the recent inflation crisis, it is unsurprising that compensation and financial benefits are more important to employees than ever before. In fact, while income and benefits were fourth on employees’ list of top priorities seven years ago, a recent Gallup report shows that they are now in the number one position, “with 64 percent of employees naming it as a critical factor in taking a new job.”
The “and” in “income and benefits” is important to note—income is by no means the only financial consideration that employees are looking at. Indeed, an investment company called Betterment found that 65 percent of employees expect their employer to provide more financial benefits and support than they did prior to the pandemic.
And employees are firm in their stance on these benefits: according to Betterment, approximately 70 percent of workers would prefer improved financial benefits to extra vacation time or in-office perks like ping-pong tables and free food.
But there’s a dizzying array of financial benefits out there, from flexible and health spending accounts to employer-sponsored emergency savings programs, student loan assistance, childcare support, and more. We spoke with human resources experts to get insight into what actions are most helpful to employees and what employers can do—no matter their company size or industry—to help employees achieve financial security.
Provide Holistic Retirement Preparation
Michelle Whiteley, director of benefits at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, says that a company’s contribution to employees’ retirement savings is the single most important financial benefit it can provide. “It’s obviously going to be the biggest base of a retirement benefit package,” she says.
But simply providing money only goes so far, Whiteley points out. The second most critical component of a retirement benefit package, she says, is education. Companies need to “help employees understand not only what their benefits look like and what retirement can look like after they leave employment but also how they can best prepare themselves,” she says.
Offer Financial Incentives
Healthcare insurance and health spending accounts aren’t the only way that companies can help employees offset the enormous costs of healthcare. Varsity Brands—a leader in the production of academic apparel and memorabilia, sports uniforms, and equipment—offers a wellness stipend of $600 per year for employees who can show they’ve followed through on certain health screenings.
“Employees don’t think about it as financial well-being, but taking care of your preventative screenings can lead to financial savings down the road,” says Josh Lipscomb, Varsity Brands’ senior vice president for total rewards.
Get Creative with Benefits and Resources
Not all employers have budgets that can accommodate substantial financial benefits. As a result, some benefits, including student loan assistance, childcare, and wellness stipends, are often left out of employees’ packages.
But even if funding certain programs is not plausible, employers can help in other ways. Texas Christian University, for example, is considering offering resources to employees who are paying off student loans. “It’s not necessarily a financial benefit, like we’re giving them money to repay, but we’re providing the resource at no cost to them so they can go through the process,” Whiteley says. “The success rate of the people who utilize this service is much higher than [that of] the people who tried to go through the process on their own.”
Lipscomb agrees. Traditional financial benefits satisfy some employees, he says, but flexible work schedules and remote work can be just as valuable. As he puts it, “flexibility is currency.”
Above All, Listen
Benefits are not one-size-fits-all, and sometimes it’s hard to know what would be most effective or helpful for a particular company’s workforce. In those cases, Lipscomb says, communication is key.
“We’ve just done a listening tour with our CEO, head of HR, and head of finance who go around and ask, ‘What would make your life better? What would make your job easier?’ I think that’s really the only way to understand what your employees need,” Lipscomb says.