- Many of the benefits companies offered pre-COVID are no longer relevant in hybrid and remote workplaces.
- New perks such as health and wellness stipends, more PTO, and flexible work hours are the next frontier of benefits.
Work looks very different than it did before the pandemic. While the vast majority of employees mostly worked in the office pre-COVID, the end of lockdowns didn’t result in a full return to traditional workplaces. In fact, many organizations are rethinking their models for the long-term, with many trending toward hybrid work.
And there are a lot of concerns about hybrid work. For example, how often will employees need to go to the office? How often (and which days) can they work from home?
But there are other important things to consider too. Employee benefits—which play a crucial role in job satisfaction and retention—are also high on the list of things companies need to get right.
The value of employee perks in a hybrid world
Although some employees worked from home occasionally prior to the pandemic, long-term hybrid is a new workplace model for most organizations. Previous discussions framed working in the office as an either-or proposition.
Remote work during lockdowns showed there were benefits to working from home. But employees missed some aspects of in-person work, largely related to connecting with colleagues. With hybrid work, organizations are looking to impart the best of both worlds.
But the pandemic caused many people to rethink other parts of work too—particularly, the role of work in their lives and what they value about their jobs.
The flexibility of hybrid work is no longer a nice-to-have benefit. Workers—and younger workers, in particular—say being able to work remotely is now a job requirement.
But because employee perks have always been an important way for employers to show they value employees, there’s also an onus on businesses to figure out what these benefits look like in a hybrid world—especially when not everyone is in the office.
What won’t work
Tech companies set the trend for employee perks in the pre-COVID era. Free food in the form of company cafeterias and stocked pantries, on-site gyms, game rooms, daycare centers, and commuter stipends became increasingly common throughout the last decade—not just in tech, but across other industries too.
In purely office-based times, such benefits were seen as a win-win. Not only were these perks attractive to employees, but they also encouraged workers to spend longer hours in the office and nurtured more interactions between colleagues.
In a hybrid world, however, there just isn’t the same emphasis on coming into the office, and these investments simply won’t impart the same value for many employees.
What hybrid employees want
The reality that more people will be working from home more often shouldn’t let companies off the hook from providing workers with perks and benefits. Benefits play an important role in employee satisfaction—and thoughtful perks can make workers feel valued.
So what benefits make the most sense for hybrid workers? Here are a few:
1. Wellness benefits
Productivity may have thrived in the work-from-home era, but employee wellness hasn’t. Workouts are down and worker burnout is up, along with a rise in repetitive strain injuries due to bad home office setups. It’s a recipe for physical and mental health challenges that can erode work quality and morale.
From mental health programs to gym memberships, wellness benefits can combat these trends and help employees feel and perform their best.
2. Food stipends
Free food in the workplace performs several functions. During busy periods or meetings, it allows workers to focus on more important things than what they’re going to eat. Sharing food also provides a connection between workers.
Whether it’s covering treats for a virtual team bonding session or takeout when everyone is buried under a big project, food stipends can provide similar benefits for hybrid workers.
3. More PTO
No wonder workers feel burned out: the average employee clocks an extra 2.5 hours per day working from home. Giving them some time back is a valuable way to reward that hard work and dedication, and restore workers’ drive and energy at the same time.
Workers want more paid time off: in one recent survey, unlimited vacation ranked as the #1 perk employees would be willing to take a salary cut to receive.
44% of workers would surrender at least 10% of a 20% pay raise for unlimited vacation time.
Hybrid work is ultimately about giving workers more flexibility to do their best work—and at the end of the day, for many employees, that additional control is a workplace benefit in and of itself.
In fact, three quarters of workers said they’d be willing to give up at least one other benefit or perk—including healthcare coverage, salary bonuses, or paid time off—in return for more personal control over how and where they work.
Balancing work and personal life can be a challenge working from home, especially for those with younger children. Parents are more likely to express concerns that working remotely has hurt their chances of promotion or that their skills lagged during the pandemic.
Companies can help ease the burden on workers with children (and reduce conflicts that interfere with parents’ performance of either job) by providing childcare benefits.
Coming out ahead
The move to hybrid work is an exciting shift. Done right, it will reduce pain points associated with daily commutes and provide workers with greater flexibility to do their best work.
But the shift to hybrid isn’t just about scheduling and how desks will be assigned in the office. Hybrid done right requires an individualized, employee-centric approach—and this includes rethinking traditional workplace perks and benefits.
Originally published Oct 01, 2021, updated Oct 05, 2021