How Benefits Have Changed in 20 Years

Posted December 14, 2016

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) first began annual surveys of HR professionals back in l996 to find out what benefits organizations offer employees. To see how employee perks have evolved over time, the latest SHRM Employee Benefits Report, which queried almost 3,500 HR pros about 300 benefits, compared the 2016 findings with 1996 data and also to information collected in the past 5 years.

“The number of benefits employers are offering is consistent with recent years,” said Evren Esen, director of survey programs at SHRM. “However, employers are always looking for new and innovative benefits that are cost-effective and best fit their workforce.”

Employers have increased and decreased benefits strategically due to economic and technological changes, as well as to the shifting concerns of workers. For example, the SHRM report notes organizations are offering more telecommuting and flexible schedule options in response to employees, especially Millennials, who want benefits that help them achieve an improved work-life balance.

In fact, the shift toward permitting employees to telecommute is 1 of the most dramatic changes companies have made since the mid-1990s. It’s a trend that appears here to stay, too. Thanks in large part to advances in technology, the percentage of organizations offering telecommuting has increased from 20% to 60% in the past 2 decades.

Many survey respondents reported their organizations now offer several new benefits, including automatic enrollment in a defined contribution retirement savings plan (21%), executive coaching (16%), genetic testing coverage for diseases (12%), stipends or subsidies  for employees using their own technological devices for work (12%) and telemedicine services such as diagnosis, treatment or prescriptions provided by phone or video (23%).

Compared to 20 years ago, companies are increasingly providing employees with wellness resources and information, according to the report. Additional wellness benefits in 2016, provided by more than one-half of respondents’ organizations, include worksite wellness programs. However, some wellness-related perks such as health coaching, onsite flu shots, nurse hot lines, and insurance-premium discounts for weight loss have declined during the past year.

Other key findings from the 2016 SHRM Employee Benefits Report:

1. Sixty percent of organizations reported the level of benefits they offer has remained the same during the past year.

2. Job sharing, in which two or more employees share both the responsibilities and salary for one full-time job, appears to be on its way out. Almost a quarter of employers offered this option in 1996 compared to only 10% today.

3. The percentage of employers offering health savings accounts increased from 43% to 50%.

4. Preferred-provider organization plans continue to be the most common type of health care coverage offered.

5. A traditional 401(k) or similar defined contribution retirement savings plan is offered by 90% of organizations who responded to the SHRM survey. Three-quarters of organizations provide an employer match for these plans.

6. More than half of organizations are offering a Roth 401(k) or similar retirement savings plan (up from 34% last year) and more companies are permitting conversion of funds from a traditional 401(k) account into a Roth 401(k).

7. Almost 90% of organizations offered professional membership benefits in 2016, compared to only 23% in 1996.

8. More organizations began offering monetary bonus benefits in the past 5 years — including sign-on bonuses for executives and non-executives, employee referral bonuses, spot-bonus awards, and retention bonuses for non-executives.

9. The percentage of companies with a standalone sick leave program increased from 33% in 2012 to 41% in 2016. However, the SHRM report notes these changes may be the result of local and state legislation requiring paid sick leave for employees.

10. Four percent of employers surveyed offer student loan repayment help as a benefit.

For more information and to download the report, visit SHRM online. — Sherry Baker