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The Employee Benefits You Didn’t Know You Wanted: Pet Insurance, Flexible Schedules and Financial Wellness

May 06, 2021 blog featured image

The priorities of employees have changed, especially as Millennials have become the dominant generation in the workforce and Gen Z has started their careers. Though these generations have weathered trying circumstances through the formative years of their careers, including a major recession and global pandemic, they have proved resilient and hard-working with a strong desire to succeed, making them ideal job candidates for all businesses.

And as their expectations have set a new baseline for employee benefits, employers have needed to shift in order to recruit and maintain top talent.

What was previously considered standard employee benefits – healthcare, 401(k)s, and PTO – will no longer cut it, especially after a required shift to remote work illustrated a slew of new benefits. Now employees expect well-rounded benefits that allow for more flexibility and a better overall work experience.

THE BENEFITS EMPLOYEES WANT

Flexible Schedules
Work-life balance means more than having an equal amount of time at work and at home, and employees know that. When lockdowns required remote work, employees experienced a level of flexibility many hadn’t experienced before, with the opportunity to make appointments, take care of household items and oversee the health and education of young children and aging parents without using valuable paid time off. This type of flexibility was requested before the pandemic, and now employees will insist on that flexibility upon their return to a post-pandemic world.

The idea of a flexible schedule can be daunting to many employers. However, regular communication, clear expectations and a trusting relationship can set the stage for this simple benefit that doesn’t add any overhead cost to employers.

Flexible schedules can comprise:

  • Remote work options
  • Four-day workweeks of longer working days
  • Flexible start and end times with required core hours (for example, all employees must be working between 10am and 3pm)

Not only do flexible schedules allow employees more control over their time schedule and working environment, but employers can boost employee morale, reduce turnover and lower absenteeism.

Pet Insurance
Pets have become more important family members, and employees want to make sure they are as protected as their children and partners – especially as spending patterns on vet care and products reached $30.1 billion in 2020. Pet insurance has become a highly sought-after benefit for employees, listed as a top five preferred work perk for Millennials by Benefitfocus. 

The global pandemic saw a sharp rise in pet ownership as workers discovered the benefits of a new four-legged friend – lower stress, increase in fitness and a general higher level of happiness. In fact, 50% of workers report that one of the most important benefits of working at home is more time with their pets, which is part of why pet insurance has become an important benefit.

Pet insurance allows employees to take care of their furriest family members in a health plan similar to many standard health plans, with a set premium and deductibles. Every insurance plan is different, but most will cover:

  • Illnesses and injuries
  • Hospitalizations
  • Labs and tests

Pet insurance is a fun benefit that is simple to understand. It can be added to any benefit program and is typically offered on a voluntary basis resulting in no cost to the employer.

Financial Wellness Benefits
Finances are a major source of stress, and the pandemic only increased that source of stress. As more employers have begun to implement programs to improve overall employee well-being, many have realized the perks of adding in financial wellness benefits.

Though 401(k) plans have been a standard benefit for many companies, there are additional financial wellness plans that can be added to provide a holistic financial health benefit, including financial education and planning, 401(k)s, and employer-provided student loan repayment.    

Education and Planning
Finances can be complicated, especially as employees plan for retirement, balance financial obligations and plan for financial emergencies. Providing the right financial education will help employees understand those complexities, lowering overall stress levels and improving their productivity and health. Having expertise available to guide employees will help validate their financial decisions and steer them toward better financial health.

These educational benefits can include:

  • Retirement planning
  • Emergency fund guidance
  • Overview of resources already available to employees through benefits
  • Financial planning for achieving goals, including home ownership and retirement

Employer-Provided Student Loan Repayment
According the SHRM, 45 million Americans owe more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. These vast debts are keeping employees from realizing their goals, including retirement, homeownership, or marriage. Facilitating a loan repayment program for employees can alleviate a major source of stress and provide additional avenues of educational growth.

Student loan repayment benefits can be customized for businesses depending on their abilities and interest. Some forms of this benefit can comprise:

  • Employer matching – matching the student loan payments made by employees toward their balance
  • 401(k)/student loan match employee choice – allowing employees to choose between a 401(k) contribution, student loan contribution or a combination of both if their program allows up to a certain amount
  • General contribution – Contributing toward an employee’s student loan repayment, regardless of that employee’s own contribution

There are no one-size-fits-all answers to employee benefits. Organizations should look at their employee wants and needs, taking into consideration the amount they are willing to invest, employee recruitment and retention goals, generational makeup, and of course personal feedback.  Regardless of what employee benefits businesses offer, it is vital to show the willingness to evolve benefits programs based on what will attract and retain top talent.

Author Jennifer Heckman, Worksite Solutions Strategist, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice