But there are also life-changing perks that can be the difference between whether workers stay engaged at a job or whether they start hunting for a better opportunity. Amid a wave of employees quitting this summer, there are some benefits that could help retain workers by improving their lives.
Here are some of those overlooked, transformative benefits more companies should be offering ― and employees should be asking about:
1. Expanded Benefits For Caregivers
Nearly one in four employees has left the workforce to become a full-time caregiver since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and these forced exits have disproportionately affected women of color. To retain more employees and attract new ones, inclusive caregiving benefits that help employees take care of children and adult family members need to be a priority.
A 2021 report by Care.com that included interviews with 500 human resource executives shines a light on what these policies look like now. The report found that of the companies that currently offer care benefits, the most frequent type is a membership to an online platform that helps find care for children, elders or pets. The other top options companies offer right now are one-on-one counseling for caregivers (53%), cash subsidies for care (52%), on-site child care (50%) and tutoring (40%).
The report shows the wide range of what employers could offer, but one big caregiving offering that employees actually want could be simply the option to work from home. For parents with unvaccinated young children and for people taking care of families who cannot be vaccinated, going back to an office right now is still fraught. A FlexJobs survey found that only 2% of parents want to go back to the office full time.
2. Paid Leave And Disability Benefits For People With Long COVID
Although mask requirements have loosened in the U.S. and more workplaces are recalling workers to offices, there are still many Americans who cannot go back to the way they worked. One group that employers can help are employees with “long COVID,” those who survived the acute initial illness of COVID-19 but continue to have symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog that interfere with their ability to work.
Applying for federal disability benefits administered by the Social Security Administration is already a notoriously long bureaucratic process. But employers can at least control how they administer their private short-term and long-term disability benefits, and make it easier for people with long COVID to obtain them. There are reports of insurers contracted by employers who reject long COVID applicants, for example. Employers could help by making it clear that job-protected leave and other disability benefits are covered and subsidized for long COVID employees.
3. Family-Building Benefits
Benefits that help people pay for expensive treatments, such as in-vitro fertilization, are highly sought after. There are reports of people who specifically chose to work at Starbucks for the IVF fertility benefits it offers all eligible employees, including part-time baristas.
And it’s a big consideration in employees’ minds right now. In a May study of 1,061 professionals who were mostly in their 30s, nearly half said the pandemic had not stopped their plans to pursue fertility treatments or become parents. Seventy-seven percent said they would consider staying longer at their current job if it offered fertility benefits, and 88% said they would consider moving for a job that had access to fertility benefits.
4. Student Loan Repayment Assistance
Nearly 45 million Americans have student loans totaling an estimated $1.7 trillion this year, and the crushing weight of these debts can stall borrowers’ futures and take a heavy toll on their mental health. It’s unsurprising, then, that recent college graduates in one 2018 survey said that they would rather have student loan assistance as a job perk over the opportunity to work remotely or receive a 401(k) employer contribution.
The pandemic has only heightened these concerns. After more than a year of COVID-19 disrupting people’s lives, employees said financial worries were the leading cause of their stress in 2021, above concerns about their job, health and relationships, according to a PWC survey of 1,600 full-time U.S. adult workers. The top worry most employees had about their long-term future was how to pay bills without additional government relief programs. And they have reason to be concerned: A pandemic-era pause on federal student loans is set to expire on Sept. 30, although Democrats in Congress are pushing President Joe Biden to extend the pause until spring.
One clear way for companies to offer relief in the meantime would be to step up their own student loan repayment assistance programs. Currently, this is an outlier perk. Only about 4% of companies actually offer a student loan repayment aid program.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not ever going to be on the table. As with all benefits, it helps to ask colleagues and co-workers about what is the industry standard. You might find out that you are not the only person on your team who wants this benefit, and you could go as a group to request it of your HR department.