The Changing Face of Employee Benefit Plans

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The one thing that drives business forward is change, and employee benefit plans often reflect a company's evolution. Some traditional benefits barely resemble their original forms, others are disappearing altogether, and new and exciting perks continue to pop up. Here are some current trends in employee benefit plans.

Drastic changes

Retirement and healthcare plans are among the top employee benefit plans, but they have changed considerably over the past few decades. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that in recent decades private-sector employers have moved away from traditional defined-benefit (DB) pension plans toward a defined-contribution (DC) retirement plan model such as the 401(k). In 1979, 62 percent of workers who participated in an employment-based retirement plan had a pension only, and just 16 percent contributed to a 401(k)-type plan. By 2011, those figures had nearly flipped. Sixty-nine percent participated in only a DC plan, while 7 percent participated in just a DB plan.

There has also been a significant shift in healthcare benefits. Employee-sponsored plans that cover all healthcare costs are now extremely rare, long since replaced by policies that require employees to pay premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and place limitations on covered services. There is also a surge in plans that shift more of the financial responsibility to employees. More companies are offering consumer-driven health plans (CDHP), whereby workers pay for routine claims through health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) or similar accounts that they control.

Modern needs

The massive changes and costs associated with retirement and healthcare plans have driven many employers to offer new benefits in order to entice top talent. Here are a few examples of creative perks that can be found in some current employee benefit plans:

  • To encourage a commitment to health as well as the environment, some companies promote green commuting programs. For example, some employers provide financial assistance to buy a commuter bike or car or a vehicle with a hybrid, biodiesel or natural gas engine. If coworkers carpool, ride bikes, use public transportation or walk, they can earn incentives.
  • More and more employers offer health rewards, such as gym memberships. Or, if you're lucky enough, you may find an employer that has on-site exercise facilities. Some employers may even reimburse for smoking cessation, weight loss or stress management programs.
  • Anyone who has young kids knows that the cost of day care can be prohibitively expensive. That's why so many workers seek employee benefit plans that incorporate subsidized day care or provide in-house child-care services.
  • In some work environments, it's not uncommon to see a furry friend cuddled up near a coworker's desk. Some companies even offer pet perks like health insurance or pet day-care reimbursements when employees travel on business.
  • If you want to advance in the workplace and learn in-demand skills, it's a great idea to look for companies that offer education and training opportunities. More and more employers offer this perk as a way to foster loyalty and ensure their teams remain up-to-date on industry changes.

As workplace cultures change, so will employee benefit plans. Embrace the new and don't be afraid to ask for a perk that could help you be more productive in the workplace.