5 Employee Benefits That Weren’t Offered 20 Years Ago

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supersizer / Getty Images

What did benefits look like 20 years ago? According to a January 2003 article in Government Executive, benefits included pay raises designated for federal employees and military personnel and legislation passed by Congress that allowed federal employees age 50 and older to contribute an extra $2,000 to Thrift Savings Plan accounts. Meanwhile, employees could put as much as $3,000 into flexible spending accounts (FSAs) for medical expenses.

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Obviously quite a bit has changed since then by way of workplace perks and benefits. The last three years amid the COVID-19 pandemic have ushered in even more employee benefits that are now considered staples. Here are common benefits employees receive now that weren’t offered 20 years ago.

Flexible and Remote Work Opportunities

The pandemic changed the way employees work, seemingly overnight. Now finishing the third year of the pandemic, many companies have gone completely remote and no longer have physical offices.

Others offer more workplace flexibility. A good example of this is a hybrid work schedule where an employee will come into the office for a couple of days each week and work from home the remaining days. While these work opportunities were initially born out of a need for social distancing and physical safety, today they remain a win-win with employees and businesses. Employees get the chance to do their best work from where they are and businesses can significantly broaden their talent pool and hire great employees.

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Vacation and PTO

What makes paid time off and vacation an interesting benefit is the manner in which it has evolved over the last 20 years to meet employee needs.

Chris Goldsmith, VP and senior consultant at Segal, said emerging vacation trends include companies requiring employees to take a minimum amount of vacation each year to prevent burnout.

Microsoft is now implementing an unlimited PTO policy known as Discretionary Time Off. All salaried U.S. employees will receive 10 corporate holidays, leaves of absence, sick and mental health time off and time away for jury duty or bereavement. Employees with unused vacation balances will receive one-time payouts in April.

This aligns with another vacation trend Goldsmith has noticed: allowing employees to trade accrued vacation for cash, travel or charitable contributions to reduce vacation plan liabilities.

“Smart companies are improving parental leave, bereavement leave, crime victim leave, caregiver leave and sabbaticals,” said Goldsmith, who predicts that vacation, specifically unlimited PTO, will be tied to the results-only work environment model for professional workers.

Financial Security Benefits

Work retirement plans have been in existence for much longer than 20 years. While many companies offer 401(k) matching programs, benefits are shifting to meet additional financial needs of employees. To recruit and retain quality employees, employers are now offering the following benefits, according to Tami Simon, SVP and global corporate consulting business leader at Segal:

  • Increased commuter benefits. These benefits, Simon said, help offset the costs of physically returning to the workplace.

  • Green dollars. “These are reimbursing costs for public transportation such as biking, walking or carpooling,” Simon said. “Some employers may contribute to purchasing an electric car or solar power for the home.”

  • College tuition contributions for family members. “Some employers contribute a gift to an education fund when a child is born or adopted,” Simon pointed out.

  • Seed dollars to pay for health insurance premiums.

Money Management Resources

Other benefits that employers are offering to talent are resources for managing their money. Simon said this can include budgeting tools, financial planning, savings calculators, debt consolidation services and financial advisors for employees and family members.

Simon said, “Companies are just beginning to recognize the more financially secure their workforce feels, the less stressed they feel and the more productive they are.”

Pet Insurance

Amid the pandemic, many employees adopted pets or spent more time at home with their furry friends. Melissa Gutierrez, senior vice president and general manager at Pets Best, said they have been working closely with companies nationwide to offer pet health insurance as a voluntary benefit to employees.

Over the years, Gutierrez said, there has been tremendous growth, especially among Gen Zers who are embracing the pet parenthood experience.

“Gen Z is redefining what the future of being a pet parent means in how they approach things like pet care, shared experiences with a pet and costs of care,” Gutierrez said.

A national pet parenthood research study titled “Pet Parenthood Today” from Pets Best revealed key findings about Gen Zers that are relevant to companies considering adding pet health insurance to their benefits packages. While the No. 1 source of anxiety for pet parents across every generation is unexpected vet bills, 87% of Gen Z respondents experience the most anxiety about pet care costs.

Whether a business is or isn’t pet friendly is another major consideration for Gen Zers. According to the study, 60% of Gen Z pet parents cited a business’ pet friendliness as a priority. The best interest of their pet is more likely to impact their employment decisions when compared to their older counterparts.

“Companies should take note,” Gutierrez said, “and factor these new considerations into their company’s voluntary benefit strategy if they hope to attract and retain this demographic of employees.”

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 5 Employee Benefits That Weren’t Offered 20 Years Ago