Twenty years ago, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conducted the Innovative Benefits Survey to measure the state of employee benefits at that time. The recurring survey, which has been modified over the years, continues to follow changes in employee benefits and, as expected, shows the evolution of employee benefits in a world where recruiting and retaining talent continues to be more challenging.
According to the 2016 version of the survey (2016 Employee Benefits Research Report), the types of benefits programs grew from 60 in 1996 to 344 in 2016. This number reflects benefits programs covered in the study, which does not mean it captures all types of benefits. In addition to various forms of health insurance, the stable benefits include prescription drug coverage, employer assistance programs, medical flexible spending accounts, long-term care insurance, paid vacation, retirement preparation planning, and wellness programs.
In regard to employee wellness, 92% of employers responded that they offer some type of wellness benefit. The specifics of what is offered varies significantly from employer to employer. Wellness resources and information grew from 54% in 1996 to 72%, in 2016 while smoking cessation programs decreased 4% (45% to 41%) during the same period. Onsite health screening programs decreased the most (22%) from 53% in 1996 to 31% in 2016. This should come as no surprise because employers are realizing, albeit very slowly, that biometric screenings do not work. In the past 12 months, organizations that increased their employee benefits were most likely to increase health-related (58%) or wellness (45%) benefits, showing the importance employee health has become within the benefits paradigm.
Another interesting piece from the survey was the increase in popularity of standing desks. The use of standing desks at work increased from 13% in 2013 (the first year it was included in the survey) to 33% in 2016. This increase is shocking given that research shows that standing desks do little to support health. This is because the incremental number of calories burned by standing vs. sitting is minimal. When wellness advocates report that sitting is the new smoking, employers should not think that avodng sitting is the cure. The cure for the problem is walking or other physical activity.