Trimming benefits because of the economy? You may want to think again

As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the world of work over the last few years, employers across industries turned to their benefits to support—and retain—struggling employees. Childcare subsidies, beefed-up parental leave, flexible hours and more became staples at many companies, as workers navigated the new norm—and they became even more integral to retention as the Great Resignation took hold.

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But now, with record inflation and fears over an uncertain economy, some employers are cutting back on the more generous benefits policies they rolled out at the start of the pandemic. Facebook parent Meta, for instance, recently slashed funding for its wellbeing program, while Twitter—already at the center of an HR storm over its extensive layoffs and firings that reportedly reduced the workforce by 75% since Elon Musk took over last year—cut fertility benefits by half and is also reportedly abandoning transportation benefits, among several others.

“During the pandemic, many companies expanded worker benefits as ways of working dramatically shifted, impacting what workers wanted from their employers,” says Claire Barnes, chief human capital officer at Monster. “However, as inflation continues to increase company costs, we’re seeing companies try to cut back on these ‘extras.’ ”

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Do so with caution, Barnes warns, as what used to be considered “perks” are increasingly viewed as tablestakes benefits by employees.

To hear how Microsoft is leveraging benefits to enhance employees’ holistic health, attend a keynote by benefits leader Fred Thiele at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Click here for more information.

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According to Monster’s 2023 Work Watch Report, for instance, more than half of employees polled said wellbeing—and related benefits—are more important to them than a salary increase. Similarly, other recent Monster research found than nearly 60% of workers ranked better benefits at the top of the list when it comes to negotiating a counteroffer.

Even if the hot labor market cools down in 2023, workers may still head to the door if established benefits norms start changing.

Claire Barnes, Monster
Claire Barnes, Monster

“If select benefits disappear,” Barnes says, “workers may opt to start searching for a new job that better supports their needs.”

Dialing back benefits can also negatively impact morale among employees who choose to stay—which could trickle down to lost productivity—as well as brand reputation among potential employees.

At Monster, leadership is committed to retaining the pandemic-era benefits it instituted, she says. For instance, it continues to center wellbeing, offers flexible Fridays, work-from-home options and self-care days, and now also holds regular open forums with leadership.

“At Monster, we learned a lot from the pandemic and, while it was tough, we worked hard to create a better environment for employees,” Barnes says. “We don’t want to take a step back, we want to continue to use that knowledge to ensure our employees feel supported and heard at work.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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