6 Employee Benefit Trends To Watch in 2016

December 8, 2015

Teira Gunlock

The new year is a fresh start for all of us. Whether you’re setting a personal fitness/finance goal or helping your company start 2016 off on the right foot, this is a great opportunity to breathe some life into your daily routine as the calendar resets.

But we also do another thing when a new year begins: We predict what we’ll be doing a year from now, thinking ahead to the next 12 months and trying to imagine what will be different about our jobs and lives.

That’s what we’re doing today. We’ve read reports, listened to our clients, and thought about what the workplace will be like at this time next year. This year’s economic growth has been one of startup booms and changes in employee mindsets as employers are again looking at how to be more progressive with benefits packages to increase retention. In 2016, we expect to see even more changes in employee benefit trends. These are our predictions for the top six practices to see significant attention in the coming year.

Not all of them are “new” concepts, but they will all continue to be talked about in new ways that apply to brokers and employers:

1. Transparency Tools

These apps and networks will grow to be a more important part of our lives as employees. They work to educate employees on what certain procedures cost both in and out of network, medical alternatives, and how to better understand and manage their healthcare.

One quarter of consumers are looking to online score cards or report cards of doctors and hospitals before deciding care––a rising trend that will grow the use of transparency tools overall.

2. Telemedicine

This benefit allows covered employees to receive immediate medical care and treatment over the phone from a physician. By 2017, 70% of large employers will offer it. So in 2016, we can expect to see that growth reflected in telemedicine as a benefit.

3. Paid Parental Leave

Big companies, like Zillow and Netflix, are expanding paid parental leave in their 2016 benefits packages––and we’ll start to see this mindset trickle down to smaller businesses as well. But the government could also have a say in paternal leave in the next few years, which means there will be a large percentage of companies who will stay stagnant in 2016 as they await a regulated, mandated decision across the country. 

4. Working Remotely

Job flexibility discussions will become more important than vacation time debates in 2016. 39% percent of employees work remotely –– 15% of them all the time. This growing trend will be a hot topic this year as employers try to find benefits that help employees balance work and home life without breaking the bank. 

5. Flexible Hours/Vacation Time

#4 doesn’t mean the debates on unlimited vacation time will end. After the initial wave of “praise” we’ve seen in the past two years, coming from companies like Virgin Group and General Electric, 2016 will be a year when many industry leaders announce where their companies stand.

For example, Liz Ryan, leader of the Human Workplace movement, says, “As a long-time HR leader I’m not a fan of ‘unlimited’ vacation time. Traditional vacation time is set by policy and by law, you’re entitled to it. ‘Unlimited’ vacation time is a cultural thing rather than a real benefit. You can take some of your ‘unlimited’ vacation time when your boss finds it convenient. Maybe that day comes, and maybe it doesn’t. Working people shouldn’t be in the position of having to wheedle and beg for vacation time.”

6. Dress Code

Large retailers are starting to ease up on some of the details of their employee dress codes. This will continue into 2016, but we could also start to see a gap in “casual” companies and traditional ones. Some professionals, for example, believe that brands that interact with financial and business-level executives will always dress up, while others won’t wear anything but a zipped hoodie. This gap will definitely grow this year as more successful startups attract employees with the startup dress code.

While a robust employee benefits package can improve morale and increase retention, it is critical that HR professionals understand both the cost and actual benefit of implementing both soft and more defined ancillary benefits. There is value to helping employees feel better, making their life outside of work easier and respecting work/life balance pays dividends to employers in increased hiring and retention rates.

Originally published Dec 8, 2015 3:00:00 PM.