Which office perks are in, and out


(Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Your employer is increasingly spending money to try to keep you healthy, even if it comes at the cost of other benefits.

That's one of the key findings from the Society for Human Resource Management's annual Employee Benefits Survey, released Tuesday. The report finds that employers are redirecting more of their spending toward wellness expenses such as health coaches, smoking cessation programs, and insurance premium discounts for employees willing to submit to health-risk assessments. Eager to control rising healthcare costs, employers are putting their money where they believe they'll see real payback, says Evren Esen, director of survey programs for SHRM.

"It may take three to five years before they see a difference," Esen says. "But it shows a return."

Investments are decreasing elsewhere, however. Esen says that companies have been taking a hard look at their benefits, removing perks that are under-used or that don't apply to large swaths of employees. For instance, undergraduate tuition benefits, which were offered by 62 percent of employers in 2010 and 61 percent last year, are now only provided to 54 percent. Just 24 percent of employers now offer long-term care insurance, down from 31 percent last year and in 2010. Car subsidies for business use of personal vehicles, offered to nearly half of employees in 2010 and 43 percent last year, is now only provided by 26 percent of employers.

"Companies had to do this anyway because of the recession," Esen says. "They've been looking at their benefits and, rather than offering everything for everyone, they’re being more strategic." 

In addition to showing the ways in which employers are getting stingier, SHRM's survey also acts as an annual window onto new kinds of employer generosity. For the first time, the survey asked its sample of 510 HR professionals whether they offered perks such as a subsidy for business use of personal cell phones (42 percent do), free snacks and beverages (20 percent), electric vehicle charging stations (4 percent), or even something called "divorce insurance" (less than one percent).

The survey also found that 20 percent of employers have standing desks available (up from 13 percent last year), and 54 percent now allow employees to telecommute on an ad-hoc basis, up from 45 percent last year.

But those blips of benevolence may not offset the declines the survey showed, particularly over the past year, for many benefits. Some of the pull back came from fringe benefits, like on-site stress reduction programs and executive club memberships. Yet others may seem less like perks than necessities to some employees. The percentage of companies offering lactation rooms, for instance, fell back to its 2010 level (28 percent), and the percentage paying for Internet access when employees travel also went down (to 54 percent, from 61 percent last year).

The economy may be recovering, and rare companies like Google may continue using massive perks as part of their talent strategy, but many companies aren't about to roll out the massage tables or the concierge services anytime soon. "Companies are still cautious," Esen says. "It's not going to be like in the early 2000s where companies were providing meals or bringing in someone to do manicures. I won't necessarily call them frivolous, but on those types of benefits, companies are holding back."

Read also:

Workplace perks for every personality

Here's one way to fix boring meetings

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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