As we head into the new year with record economic expansion and strong job market figures top of mind, employers across the country are strategizing how to attract top talent to fill roles in 2020. One way to do this is by offering the workplace benefits people want most.
And according to early predictions, employers are stepping up to meet the demand. CNBC Make It spoke with career and benefits experts to see what's in store for workers and job seekers in the new year.
Here are the buzziest workplace benefits trends to look out for in 2020.
Workers want flexibility, and in coming years, that will expand to their paychecks, says Doug Politi, president of compliance solutions at human resources and payroll company ADP.
"With the rise of peer-to-peer payment apps, such as Venmo and Zelle — and other fast payments including quick ATM transactions or money transfers through services like PayPal — people today are increasingly reliant on receiving faster payments," he says. "As a result, the pay experience will reach a new level of personalization, offering an easier way for workers to be paid, the way they want, any time they want."
Walmart, Noodles & Company, Uber and Lyft already allow workers to access earnings as soon as their hours are logged, not just on payday, CNN Business reports.
Considering record-low unemployment rates, Politi adds, "as employees seek more flexible pay options, how employers respond to those expectations is going to be an increasingly important part of human capital management."
According to a report from the Society for Human Resources Management, 69% of organizations allowed employees to work from home at least some of the time in 2019, and 27% offered full-time telecommuting arrangements. Michelle Armer, chief people officer at job site CareerBuilder, says this benefit will expand in 2020.
"The cost of living in many major U.S. cities is high and can be prohibitive," Armer says. "Broadly, we're seeing people move away from urban hubs in favor of less popular areas where they can get more space for less."
People who do their jobs from home, freelance or travel for work are increasingly leaving cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco and taking their families — and jobs — to places including Denver and Boise, Idaho, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This trend comes as research has found most high-paying, advanced jobs are concentrated in just a handful of cities with high costs of living. However, employers that allow flexible remote work policies will be able to tap into wider talent pools, and they may be able to minimize the overhead cost of office space.
Health care is still the No. 1 benefit workers care about most, according to SHRM data. However, the definition of health care will be broader than ever in 2020 and will include more support around mental, behavioral and emotional health.
Workers can also expect to address more of their health-care needs online instead of visiting the doctor in-person.
"We've seen really dramatic increases in the availability of telemedicine or telehealth," says Liz Supinski, director of data science at SHRM. Telemedicine allows a patient with a minor illness, such as a cold or sore throat, to speak with a physician or nurse over the phone or video chat to conduct a diagnostic test and order prescriptions within a few hours' time.
This on-demand arrangement is faster, more flexible and less costly. When fewer workers visit health centers, employers have fewer medical bills to cover.
According to the SHRM, the availability of telemedicine benefits has increased threefold since 2016, and 72% of organizations said they offered this resource in 2019. "Cost and convenience are drivers to that — that's a pace of change we rarely see," Supinski says.
The work being done to make workplaces more equal and inclusive is far from a trend, but 2020 will see the use of new technology to facilitate these initiatives. Armer says this will be a major theme across every part of the employee experience, from hiring and training to career development and recognition.
She give examples of artificial intelligence technologies that review candidate resumes for talent and skills buzzwords. While these systems show promise, Armer says these programs need to be built with inclusion in mind. One way to do this is to make sure the teams programming these algorithms are diverse themselves across race, gender, experience and background.
"Recruiting new hires based on their skills or potential is another way that employers are making sure their teams are diverse," she adds.
More employees might also be looped into the hiring process to encourage more inclusive hiring decisions. These initiatives are likely to be welcome among workers who increasingly expect companies to be transparent in their hiring and promotion practices.
The process could help employee retention, too — a 2018 Deloitte survey finds millennial and Gen Z workers are more than twice as likely to stay with a company beyond five years if they work for an organization that has a diverse workforce, rather than one that does not.
A 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Index found that, other than higher pay, providing workers with opportunities to advance their careers may be the best way to improve employee satisfaction.
Continued learning will be especially crucial in 2020, for companies across every industry, to address the U.S tech talent shortage, where there are more open tech jobs than workers to fill them.
Employers are expected to invest in more employee resources to "upskill" (when professionals stay up-to-date on skills they already have) and "reskill" (when workers learn a completely new set of skills to shift into a different role) their workforce. Technology skills have a higher risk of becoming outdated or obsolete because they change so quickly, so it's crucial for workers to stay on top of the latest developments.
A key player leading this charge in the tech space is Amazon, which in 2019 announced its $700 million Upskilling 2025 commitment to retrain one-third of its workforce to fill technology jobs and other advanced roles.
"There's a greater need for technical skills in the American workplace than ever before, and there is a huge opportunity for people with the right skill sets," says Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon.
Katie Burke is chief people officer at marketing platform HubSpot, which was named the best place to work according to employee reviews. She says job seekers will look to companies that can offer a career path, rather than just the job itself.
"I suspect we'll see more and more candidates looking for roles and companies that really help them grow personally and professionally," she says, "so as a result, companies will offer more personalized learning and development opportunities tailored toward giving individuals more on-the-job skill development and upskilling opportunities."
U.S. student debt levels reached a new high in 2018 when the St. Louis Federal Reserve reported that borrowers collectively owe over $1.5 trillion in student loans. The average American with student debt owes between $20,000 and $25,000.
"This financial burden impacts employees and dependents," says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of global resources with the job site Indeed. As a result, more companies are providing solutions to help employees with their student loan balances.
In some programs, a company will match a worker's contribution to their student loan debt directly. In others, the employer may put that match toward the individual's retirement fund. Wolfe says more companies will also expand their efforts to help workers learn about debt consolidation and refinancing options.
As companies expand their coverage of health benefits, resources to support financial health will also grow.
"Forward-thinking workplace perks, such as personalized, employer-driven financial wellness offerings will help workers manage their pay, savings and improve their financial well-being," Politi says.
According to a recent Bank of America report, 53% of companies offer financial wellness programs to workers — twice as many as four years ago. These programs include online financial tools to help with budgeting and debt management to advice from financial planners.
These offerings come as recent reports suggest more than half of people are struggling with some aspects of their financial lives. But when companies help workers find financial stability through budgeting and debt resources, in addition to earnings and retirement plans, they can boost worker engagement and productivity.
"There is a responsibility to not only provide the tools that will give today's workers access to their pay when they need it," Politi says, "but more importantly provide educational tools that can help them down the road."
"From family planning to child care and everything in between, employers are finding new ways to support employees as they grow their families," Wolfe says. He says providing services like fertility support, back-up child care, adoption assistance, primary and secondary caregiver paid leave and a transition program back to work will be necessary for companies to remain competitive in the work-life balance arena.
Family benefits will also become more inclusive.
Netflix, which in 2015 set a precedent by providing 52 weeks of paid parental leave to employees, says family benefits will become more accessible to varying types of households in 2020.
"This year, we began offering a family-forming benefit to support employees during their fertility, surrogacy, or adoption journey," a Netflix spokesperson says. "It's available to them and their partner, regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation."
As America's aging population grows, so does the share of people who leave the workforce in order to care for aging parents and family members.
According to SHRM data, about 10% of organizations offered an eldercare benefit for workers in 2019, up from 6% in 2015. While that's not a huge share, Supinski expects the need for this benefit will increase quickly.
Caregiving benefits refer to paid time off to care for a sick family member, as well as financial and professional support transitioning back to the workforce full- or part-time.
Companies can become more attractive to job seekers by offering a more holistic family leave benefit, instead of one that focuses just on parents caring for newborns. Referring to paid family leave at all life stages and levels of caregiving, Supinski says, "it's not a benefit for one subgroup, it's one everyone may need in some form."
The more employers can appeal to the most multi-generational and diverse workforce ever, the better. "One-size-fits-all benefits aren't going to satisfy people," Supinski says. "It's an interesting challenge for organizations to balance that out."
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