Open enrollment prep: What benefits to consider for your employees

Benepass CEO reveals which new benefit has been in high demand this year

Open enrollment prep: What benefits to consider for your employees

With open enrollment season rapidly approaching, HR leaders are determining what to include in their benefits packages to attract and retain talent.

Employee wellness has become the top priority since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jaclyn Chen, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based Benepass, a platform that distributes benefits and non-salary compensation globally.

“Companies used to buy one gym membership for all employees, thinking that checks the wellness box,” Chen told HRD. “But during the pandemic, companies have shifted toward a holistic understanding of wellness, realizing it deals with physical, as well as mental health.”

Read more: Is it legal for companies to cover travel expenses of an employee’s abortion?

Employers have been forced to expand their benefits and perks during the Great Resignation, in which companies across the United States are experiencing historic turnover. In July, another 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means roughly 77 million Americans have fled their employers since the beginning of 2021.

Prompted by the pandemic to re-evaluate their priorities in life, employees have been heading for greener pastures, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions, improved work-life balance and more opportunities to advance their career. As a result, the scales have tipped in favor of labor, with employers having to bend over backwards to attract and retain talent. To combat the nationwide staffing shortage and compete for talent, employers have had to increase their compensation and benefits packages beyond the traditional health care, dental, vision and 401(k) offers.

“The world is changing very quickly, and our clients are very attuned to that,” Chen says. “Companies want to be able to support their employees in their response to current events. Benepass has the ability to use our financial software and platform to respond to requests quickly. Instead of implementing benefits once a year and taking three months to prepare, we can turn on and adjust a benefit overnight.”

Another benefit that’s in high demand is flexibility, regarding where, when and how employees work. Of the workers who declined their last job offer, 45% said flexibility or work-life balance was the main factor that led to their rejecting the offer, according to recent data from Gusto, a San Francisco-based HR tech firm. Additionally, 48% of workers said that the ability to work from home some or all of the time would be a major or the most important factor in determining whether to accept a job offer in the future.

Savvy business leaders are matching their employees’ desire to work from home, tailoring benefits that will assist their new modus operandi. “Companies want to provide an equitable experience for their remote employees, supporting them in terms of helping set up their home office or even paying for their phone and internet expenses,” Chen says.

Read more: HR is trapped in return-to-office tug of war

Over the past few months, Benepass has been inundated with requests about covering travel costs for employees who need to go out of state for medical procedures, including abortions. It’s a direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, granting states the power to establish their own abortion laws. Since the high court’s controversial ruling in June, abortion is now illegal or heavily restricted in at least 12 states, NPR reported. At least 10 other states have laws in place to quickly follow suit.

Even though Benepass has been implementing benefits to help facilitate abortions, Chen says some legal ambiguity remains, especially as it pertains to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans.

“In most instances, ERISA makes it so federal law on employee benefits supersedes state laws,” Chen says. “For example, if you’re administering a health reimbursement arrangement and an employee needs to travel out of state, that’s an allowable expense from an ERISA standpoint because states don’t have jurisdiction. However, certain states are making it a criminal matter in terms of potential assistance and that’s where it’s unclear. There’s been no precedent yet in terms of what laws are enforced.”

Veris Insights, a Washington D.C.-based recruiting analytics firm, conducted a string of surveys leading up to the Supreme Court’s ruling. In a June survey of business professionals before Roe was repealed, a third reported that employer-provided benefits to support traveling for abortion were “very important” or “essential” for evaluating potential employers. Millennials in particular care greatly about these benefits, with 40% considering them “very important” or “essential,” beating every other demographic by 10 percentage points.

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