Given the new reality of social distancing, many of the office perks employees have enjoyed in recent years may be things of the past.
With safety the utmost concern, many workers may not be as interested in sharing meals in large groups, playing games in a game room frequented by hundreds of people, or working out in an on-site gym. Coffee bars, beer taps, and comfy furniture groupings, once intended to inspire camaraderie among employees, are unlikely to remain in vogue in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the spaces previously set aside for employee gaming and group dining may be needed to accommodate the spacing of employee desks and workspaces, or to install centers for temperature checking or other health needs.
“Whereas before we were trying to script these collisions into happening, now we’re trying to do the exact opposite,” Steve Smith, a principal with office design firm Cooper Carry, told The Washington Post.
But in the absence of hands-on, at-work perks, employers can still provide tangible benefits that employees may value more in the current environment. Here’s a look at four areas of benefits that are likely to continue to appeal to employees during and after the pandemic.
Improved health benefits
In a global health crisis, employees are most concerned about their health and that of their families. Many employers are looking to ease those worries by expanding health care benefits, according to a survey by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (NAHPC).
Telemedicine, with waived copays for testing visits, is going mainstream; 89% of employers are offering or considering offering first-dollar coverage of COVID-19 testing. Also, 37% are covering the actual treatment of conditions related to COVID-19 on a first-dollar basis, and 66% are waiving or considering waiving copays for office visits associated with testing for the virus. Three out of four are waiving or considering waiving copays related to coronavirus-related telemedicine visits.
In the wake of the pandemic, paid sick leave also has become increasingly important for workers. Among employers responding to the NAHPC survey, 73% said they are providing paid sick leave for employees who are sick with or quarantined by the coronavirus, and 34% are providing additional paid time off in response to the crisis.
On-site health opportunities
Some employers are looking for ways to provide employees with equipment and opportunities at work to help them feel safe and stay healthy, such as distributing masks, adding more frequent cleaning routines, and screening people for COVID-19 symptoms. For instance, a number of employers have expressed interest in using new contact tracing tools rolled out by Apple, Google, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to Marketplace.
Some employers are going even further. In a letter to shareholders on April 16, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote that the company has formed a special team to build an on-site COVID-19 testing lab. The goal is to start testing frontline employees soon and eventually expand testing efforts.
“Regular testing on a global scale…would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running,” Bezos wrote. “For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available. If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus. Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence.”
With most schools and childcare centers closed, many employees are juggling the responsibilities of their jobs while caring for and educating their children.
As a result, more employers are considering benefits that help accommodate their workers’ additional responsibilities: 59% are offering unpaid family leave for caregiver support affected by COVID-19, and 21% are considering it, according to the NAHPC survey. Another 46% are offering paid family leave for caregiver support affected by the pandemic.
This support looks different at different companies. For some, it’s as simple as offering an option to work from home for the foreseeable future, or more flexible hours for employees who have young children at home.
As 2020 sees unemployment rolls reach record highs and an uncertain future ahead, benefits that offer increased financial stability are likely to receive high marks from employees. For instance, there’s nothing like a well-funded emergency account to help ease an employee’s financial stress—and an emergency fund benefit could be ideal for boosting employees’ engagement during a stressful time.
And with the passage of the coronavirus stimulus bill, providing student loan repayment benefits is more attractive than ever: Employer-funded contributions to employee student loan accounts are now tax-free up to $5,250 per employee per year.
The workplace may be changing, but creative employers can still offer strong benefits packages their employees will value in the current environment.
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