The Evolution and Expansion of Benefits Over the Past 20 Years

The Evolution and Expansion of Benefits Over the Past 20 Years

SHRM conducted its 20th annual employee benefits survey this year, and prepared a report detailing how the benefits landscape has evolved over the past two decades. SHRM’s Stephen Miller highlights the report’s key findings:

2016 Employee Benefits shows that telecommuting benefits have seen a threefold increase since 1996, when just 20 percent of survey respondents worked at organizations that offered telecommuting. Today, 60 percent do. … While telecommuting is becoming the new norm, job sharing—in which two or more employees divide the responsibilities and compensation for one full-time job—has seen a steep decline in popularity. Just 10 percent of respondents’ organizations now offer job sharing vs. 24 percent in 1996. …

Compared with 20 years ago, many more organizations are providing wellness resources and information (72 percent this year, up from 54 percent), according to the report. Other common wellness benefits in 2016, provided by more than one-half of respondents’ organizations, include worksite wellness programs and onsite seasonal flu vaccinations. Twenty percent of respondents levy a smoking surcharge in their health care plans.

Some benefits have decreased in popularity over the past 20 years, including credit union membership, employee stock purchase plans, parking subsidies, and matching charitable contributions. In the past five years, various types of cash bonuses have become markedly more common.

On the whole, the number and variety of benefits on offer has exploded since SHRM began conducting this survey, Jena McGregor remarks in the Washington Post. Whereas SHRM tracked 60 benefits in 1996 and 219 in 2006, this year’s survey covers nearly 350:

Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics for SHRM, says that 20 years ago, employers all had a similar group of benefits they offered employees — things like health care, retirement, vacation and prescription drug coverage. “Organizations weren’t necessarily using benefits as a recruitment and retention tool,” she says. What’s changed, she says, is that “now benefits are so specific and so creative in order to get the talent that organizations want — that’s one way they differentiate themselves. That’s why we’ve seen the huge increase in types of benefits.”

In other words, the overall range of benefits offered to workers may be more varied and tailored than ever. Companies appear to be putting a little more money into benefits and bonuses rather than salaries as they try to attract talented employees without driving up fixed costs — it’s a lot easier to take away a perk than it is to cut an employee’s base pay. … Still, that shift is not dramatic. While the array of benefits may be getting bigger — and about a third of companies said they have increased the number of new perks they offer — the prevalence of those headline-grabbing niceties is still pretty rare.

Although wellness benefits have become considerably more common since the 1990s, their popularity has declined slightly from even higher peaks in 2012 and 2015. By way of explaining this decrease, Esen tells the Wall Street Journal’s Rachel Emma Silverman that employers are starting to figure out which of the growing number of wellness benefits are effective, and cutting those that aren’t showing results:

Just 37% of the employers studied offered health coaching—counseling designed to motivate employees to make healthy lifestyle choices. Last year, nearly half of them offered that benefit. Fewer employers are making seasonal flu vaccinations available at work, with 54% doing so, down from 61% last year.

Measuring return on investment for wellness programs is difficult, in part because the programs vary widely. Plus, many factors affect employee health and health-care spending. One Rand Corp. study of a Fortune 100 company found that a lifestyle-management wellness program lost about 50 cents for every dollar spent. Other big studies of different wellness programs have found more positive results. …

The share of employers offering core benefits, such as health care and retirement savings, has remained fairly steady, although some types of coverage have changed. For example, companies didn’t offer health-savings accounts 20 years ago, but this year some 50% of employers surveyed offered such accounts, up from 43% last year.