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April 06, 2000
Employers Reshuffling the Benefits Deck
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xandria, VA - - One thing that stands out in a new survey by the Society for Human Resources

Resource Management (SHRM) is that employers are forever tinkering with their benefit plans as the employment situation changes. Looking at the survey data gives a good picture of what is popular, what is hot (cafeteria benefit plans, lactation programs, flu shots) and what is not (relocation assistance, defined benefit programs, health wellness programs, subsidized cafeterias and certain types of leave).


"Slight decreases in several benefits may be due to employers focusing their resources more effectively," according to SHRM President and CEO Michael R. Losey, SPHR and CAE. "Many employers initially responded to the tight labor market by implementing new and more generous benefits packages in an attempt to boost their recruitment and retention efforts. The slight cutbacks we're seeing this year may be indicative that a number of employers found the new benefits were too costly or not as effective as they had hoped."

Housing and Financial Benefits

Although the majority (60 percent) of human resource (HR) professionals responding to the survey report that their organizations offer relocation benefits, that number is down as compared with 68 percent in 1999. One in ten respondents offer a cash balance pension plan, a newly listed benefit on the survey, and the number of organizations offering a defined benefit retirement plan fell from 52 percent in 1999 to 47 percent in 2000. Nearly one in three offer a complete cafeteria plan in which workers can choose among an array of benefits (29 percent), an increase from 23 percent in 1999. More than one-quarter of companies (26 percent) offer a sign-on bonus for non-executive positions and 37 percent offer such bonuses for executives.

Family-Friendly and Leave Benefits

Benefits that focus on flexibility continue to be popular with little variance from 1999 figures. More than half (51 percent) of HR professionals surveyed said their organization offers flextime as an employee benefit. In addition, approximately one-quarter of respondents said their organizations offer options such as compressed work weeks (27 percent), telecommuting (26 percent), and job sharing (22 percent). As another matter of convenience, 15 percent offer lactation programs, up from 6 percent in 1999. The number of organizations offering elder care benefits, however, essentially stayed the same, despite projections that workers will have responsibility for providing for aging relatives as a result of advances in medicine, increased longevity and an aging population.

Perhaps as evidence that employers are struggling to find enough qualified workers to staff their organizations in the current tight labor market, the survey noted several decreases in leave benefits for employees over the 1999 survey. According to the survey, 87 percent of HR professionals say their organizations offer paid vacation and 41 percent offer paid personal days, down from 94 percent and 55 percent respectively in 1999.

In addition, 12 percent of respondents reported offering leave through a Paid Time Off plan in which all types of leave, such as sick, personal and vacation, are bundled into one general bank of leave to be used by the employee.

Health Care Benefits - Wellness Programs Decline

Although the vast majority of organizations offer dental insurance (96 percent) and some type of health insurance (99 percent), the number of employers offering wellness benefits fell in 2000. For example, the number of respondents that offer wellness programs, resources and information fell from 56 percent to 49 percent. Health screening programs continue to be popular, especially among larger employers, but still fell from 48 percent to 41 percent in 2000. More than one in six respondents (65 percent), however, offer on-site vaccinations such as flu shots, representing an increase from 57 percent in 1999.

Personal Perks and Unusual Benefits

Some organizations seem to go above and beyond when providing personal perks to their workers. More than one in ten (11 percent) organizations offer paid dry cleaning services to workers, 8 percent offer massage therapy, 4 percent offer concierge services and 1 percent of respondents offer pet health insurance, nap time during the workday or already prepared take-home meals. The popularity of subsidizing food or cafeteria services appears to have peaked in 1999 when 37 percent of respondents said they offered this benefit. In 2000, the number fell to 30 percent, the same percentage reported in 1998.

New to the SHRM Benefits Survey are several unusual benefits centered around employee entertainment. According to the survey, 41 percent of HR professionals say their organizations pay for employees to attend sporting or cultural events and more than three in ten offer Halloween parties (36 percent), theme days (34 percent) or ice cream socials (32 percent).

About the Survey

The SHRM¨ 2000 Benefits Survey, funded in part by the SHRM Foundation, is available by calling 1-800-444-5006. The survey costs $39.95 for non-SHRM members. SHRM members may access the full survey for free at SHRM

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