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Employee Benefits Trends

The Evolution of Employee Benefits:1996 to Now

In its 2016 report on employee benefits, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) took a look back at 20 years of employee benefits offerings in the U.S. (1996 to 2016). Here are some of the more interesting findings.

Only a few benefits have noticeably increased.

Remote working: Telecommuting has grown dramatically, tripling in popularity. In 1996, just 20% of organizations offered remote working as a benefit. In 2016, 60% did.

Technology: Technological developments have undoubtedly fueled this shift. Remember, 1996 was the era of dial-up internet providers like AOL and Prodigy (for those who remember the olden days, listen to the “sound of dial up” at YouTube for a blast from the past). Today, cloud computing and powerful, simple communication and collaboration tools make telecommuting a snap.

Legal Assistance: A bit more of a surprise: legal assistance/services as a benefit has doubled. It’s still not common – even in 2016 it’s only offered by 25% of employers as a benefit. But it may reflect a larger trend in modern benefits: the rise of voluntary benefits, or optional benefits that employees pay for themselves.

Professional Development: Notably, more employers are also offering professional memberships and professional development programs. The SHRM report theorizes “career development benefits may help bridge the skills gap.” It is certainly true that skills shortages are a common problem in recruitment – two-thirds of small businesses (63%) indicate the “skills gap” is affecting their ability to find qualified staff, per the 2016 Bank of America Small Business Owner report.

By contrast, numerous benefits have fallen in frequency.

Financial: Virtually all financial and compensation benefits reviewed by the SHRM report have become less popular. That includes employee discounts, credit union services, transportation subsidies, employee stock purchase plans, as well as housing and relocation assistance. Credit union benefits, in particular, have collapsed from 70% in 1996 to just 23% in 2016.

Time Off: Some leave benefits, like paid and unpaid sabbaticals, have fallen by half or more.

Most likely, these changes reflect organizations tightening their belts and, instead of throwing money at benefits, trying to think strategially about what benefits will really appeal to their own employees. As the SHRM report notes, “A strategic compensation and benefits package is essential in the current talent marketplace.”

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