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Over the past few years, work has been transformed—not just the workplace, but the ways people work and even the position work occupies in our lives.

Workers have reevaluated their priorities. Some have recentered their lives around values besides their work. Others have become laser-focused on career advancement and professional growth.

At the same time, inflation and rising costs of living have people feeling financial strain. Under stress from multiple directions, many workers struggle with burnout’s effects on their mental and physical health.

Employers face challenges, too. The worker shortage is expected to continue, especially as baby boomers continue to retire at a brisk clip. Competition for job applicants is fierce and turnover is high, with nearly 4 million workers quitting their jobs each month.

In 2023, there’s pressure on businesses to stand out by offering budget-conscious employee benefits that attract and retain great talent. These 9 current trends in employee benefits within the workforce share a theme of caring about the whole person:

  1. Remote and flexible work options
  2. Employee experience and workplace culture 
  3. Upskilling, education, and professional development
  4. Enhanced healthcare coverage
  5. Inclusive leave policies
  6. Mental health and holistic wellness 
  7. Financial education programs
  8. Environmental and social responsibility initiatives
  9. Robust retirement benefits

1. Remote and Flexible Work Options

Becoming a remote-friendly workplace isn’t always an easy transition, but businesses everywhere learned how to make it work, thanks to the “Great Work-From-Home Experiment.” What started as a pivot is now table stakes to attract knowledge workers across all generations. (According to McKinsey, 87% work flexibly when offered the chance.) Remote and hybrid opportunities demonstrate trust and help employees balance their personal and professional responsibilities.

But what about workers who can’t work remotely? Resourceful companies are finding ways to extend autonomy and flexibility to those employees. Adaptable work schedules, job sharing, and earlier or later starting times are just a few options. Businesses are also investing in workplace comforts like activity-based workspaces with zones for focused and collaborative work, as well as dedicated spaces where workers can socialize or relax quietly.

2. Employee Experience and Workplace Culture

A positive workplace culture is one where people understand their value to the business and feel appreciated for their contributions. A culture of transparency and open communication empowers employees to engage in creating a supportive community that nurtures human connections and fosters personal growth. Initiatives to enhance employee experience through improvements in diversity, equity and inclusion are helping companies create a culture of belonging.

Forward-thinking company leaders imbue their management style with the same principle. Open-book management builds trust and mutual respect, and helps every individual see how their work contributes to profitability. It’s an effective way to nurture a culture of ownership that retains more loyal people. And that powers up your leadership succession planning ability.

RELATED: Top 7 Pitfalls You Need to Avoid When Building an Ownership Culture

3. Upskilling, Education, and Professional Development

When a company is willing to invest in employee development, it shows genuine interest in growing people and helping them succeed—on the job and in life. That means professional development opportunities, tuition reimbursement programs, and upskilling and advanced technical training as increased automation changes the nature of work from production floors to the leadership suite.

Learning is a solid investment for the business, too. Paired with growth opportunities and a career path, professional development can power up your succession planning to help stabilize and secure your company’s future—while growing your own capable leaders.

4. Enhanced Healthcare Coverage

Over the last two decades, as consumer prices rose 71%, healthcare costs shot up by 110.3%. Companies are reevaluating their health insurance contributions and, in some cases, paying the full employee premium. They’re also expanding healthcare coverage offerings to help employees find the best plans to match their needs.

Comprehensive healthcare coverage signals that your company prioritizes employee health and well-being. By helping them meet their needs for preventive care, businesses are helping alleviate a major source of emotional, physical, and financial stress, and employees return the goodwill in gratitude and loyalty.

5. Inclusive Leave Policies

Historically, work leave has not been a high priority for most U.S. businesses—especially paid leave. Inclusive policies, whether paid or unpaid, go beyond traditional maternity leave. Inclusive policies like extended parental and bereavement leave, and even work sabbaticals, demonstrate empathy and compassion. 

These policies help workers feel cared for as they tend to personal needs without fear of career repercussions. That allows them to return to work feeling capable and supported—and helps the company avoid high turnover and the costs that come with it.

6. Mental Health and Holistic Wellness

Benefits that address mental health and more holistic approaches to wellness can span a wide range:

  • Stress management/meditation apps
  • Virtual counseling and therapy
  • Gym membership reimbursements
  • Employee assistance programs
  • In-house workouts, yoga, or meditation

A healthier, more resilient workforce is made up of employees with greater attention, focus, and ability to think critically to solve problems.

7. Financial Education Programs

Student loan debt, high housing costs, inflation, and an overall low level of financial literacy are factors that contribute to worker stress—and that stress can play out in absenteeism, presentism, poor judgment, and lost productivity.

When workers understand key financial concepts, they’re better equipped to make informed decisions. Programs like these can help employers demonstrate a commitment to workers’ financial security. And financially educated employees are a direct benefit to the company.

8. Environmental and Social Responsibility Initiatives

Employees increasingly want to work for employers that demonstrate a commitment to ethical practices, global stewardship, and more just communities. By involving employees in company efforts, businesses strengthen their sense of shared purpose and values, and employees feel empowered to make a positive impact.

On an individual level, volunteer time off makes it possible for more employees to lend time to worthwhile projects, no matter their work shift. By giving employees opportunities to participate in projects and activities that are most meaningful to them, employers signal that they value more than just an employee’s work contributions.

9. Robust Retirement Benefits

Even before the passage of SECURE 2.0, employees were giving keen consideration to companies that offer more extensive retirement benefits than the most common option, the 401(k) plan. Employer matching contributions may be generous, but they don’t always lead to retirement security. Compared with new and trendy benefits, retirement remains top-of-mind for job applicants.

Qualified annuities, Health Savings Accounts, and cash balance pension accounts are among a few options companies can consider. But there’s another qualified plan option that many, many more employers should explore: the employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP.

VIDEO: How Does an ESOP Work as a Qualified Benefit Plan & More? 

An ESOP is much more than just a unique qualified retirement plan. As a tax-advantaged plan, it offers unique benefits for both employees and business owners. ESOPs facilitate employee ownership through the allocation of shares, incentivizing workers and fostering a sense of shared responsibility.

For owners of closely held private companies, ESOPs provide a flexible exit strategy, enabling a gradual or immediate transition of ownership while receiving tax benefits and ensuring the company's continuity and legacy.

Explore how an ESOP would impact your company and employee culture with our free guide, What to Expect After the Transition to an Employee-Owned Company. Click below to download.

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