Flexibility in employee programs has been one of the defining factors over the past year: flexibility in where people work, how people work, and when people work. As nearly half of the U.S. workforce transitioned to remote work amid the pandemic, employers needed to adjust to a new way of living — and a new way of working.

Today, employers are recognizing the benefits of remote work, with 82% of company leaders reporting that they will continue to allow employees to occasionally work from home even when going back to the office is safe. With remote work and an increase in freelancers on the horizon, investing in corporate culture has become a top priority for leaders who seek to build an engaged, happy workforce

Creating employee wellness and benefits programs that make team members feel inspired and appreciated is critical to the success of every modern business. The pandemic shifted the corporate morale focus to well-being, with 80% of surveyed executives claiming that employee happiness — including overall wellness, remote support, and flexible leave policies — was important or very important to the success of their organization. 

Furthermore, offering appealing benefits can tremendously impact employee retention and attract top talent — for instance, 66% of employees with access to free food as a perk report that they are extremely satisfied with their job. 

Ready to attract and retain top talent with better benefits? Here are the top trends in employee programs already gaining momentum in 2021 that you should know about:      

Top trends in employee benefits programs

At this point, cold brew on tap and ping pong tournaments seem to be benefits of lore — and without going into the office to experience these perks firsthand, few employees will actually enjoy them. 

Ideally, benefits like free food and wellness perks will have a substantial return on investment that extends far beyond day-to-day operations, fueling happy employees who are eager to come to work everyday — even when the office is their dining room table. Accordingly, when designing your employee wellness programs, it’s important to implement perks that support remote workers and make everyone feel appreciated and included. 

Food delivery 

Everyone needs to eat, and giving your employees access to dynamic food perks like DashPass for Work can make your team feel cared for and appreciated whether they are working in the office or remotely. 

While investing in employee happiness is proven to increase job engagement and satisfaction, 9 out of 10 employees surveyed said that they missed at least one food benefit while working from home. Adding food delivery options to your benefits package extends beyond creating a happier workforce — it also gives your team the opportunity to order food when they feel stressed and need a healthy pick-me-up, thus boosting productivity. 

With flexible options, like Group Orders, which allows employees to choose their own meal for office lunches and easily adhere to individual dietary preferences, and Expensed Meals, which lets you set a budget for employees to order wherever they are, DoorDash is a convenient way to give food perks to your whole team. DoorDash is available for 80% of Americans and has the largest delivery coverage in the U.S., making it easily accessible for all of your staff. 

To go a step further, consider offering remote lunch breaks with corporate executives and leaders to help employees feel more engaged and appreciated. This gesture can have powerful payoffs: according to a survey from the American Psychological Association, highly valued employees have better motivation and job satisfaction.

Meditation

The past year has been stressful for everyone, and one of the ways some corporations are combatting the added tension is through subscriptions to meditation apps. During the pandemic, one-third of Americans experienced psychological distress, and these apps aim to reduce anxiety, improve memory, and boost critical thinking skills. One downside, however, is that not all employees use these apps. According to the CDC, in 2018 only 14% of Americans had meditated in the past year. 

Remote classes

Whereas former benefits may have included a discounted gym membership or fitness stipend, it can be difficult to find a gym that’s accessible to all employees and caters to everyone’s fitness goals or preferences. With gyms closed for the majority of 2020, organizations looked to remote yoga, Zumba, and Pilates classes to continue offering fitness benefits to employees. 

Other remote classes, like cooking or baking, can help connect team members from afar and encourage bonding outside of work, taking the place of company intramural sports and summer picnics.

Paid time off

Using paid time off for vacations may have been few and far between in 2020, but offering dedicated PTO is still necessary to allow employees to recharge and decompress. Without a tropical destination awaiting them, employees rarely used PTO in 2020, causing employers to redesign the benefits system and encourage “staycations” to get a break from constant work stresses. Adding extra wellness PTO days has become popular for employers who hope to boost morale by promoting work-life balance. 

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Rethinking employee programs for a modern workforce

After a year of remote work changing the way many companies do business,  a Gallup poll found that nearly a quarter of the remote workforce wanted to stay remote, even when it’s safe to return to the office. This is causing many employers to rethink office spaces, team building, and remote work resources.

In order to safely resume office operations, adhere to local and federal guidelines on capacity restrictions and personal protective equipment to prioritize the health of all employees who do end up coming back to the office. Supporting employees in their efforts to get vaccines through paid time off can also benefit herd immunity, thus making an office return safer. 

But for employees who wish to remain remote, support from company leaders is paramount. This includes everything from incorporating flexible schedules to providing the infrastructure needed in order to work effectively from home. Remote work isn’t going away, so proactively creating comprehensive teleworking policies can help employees continue to thrive out of the office.    

For many workers, transitioning to at-home work was relatively easy. Most employees successfully bridged the gap with technology needs, set up an adequate workspace, and continued meeting deadlines as they would in an office. However, many remote workers struggled with feeling motivated to complete their work — an area where employee rewards programs can prove beneficial. 

Making benefits work for in-office and remote employees

Though some team members may prefer to work in the office, creating benefits programs that work for everyone is imperative to boosting your corporate culture. This means having perks that are accessible, convenient, and desirable for all employees, like offering weekly expensed meals or virtual yoga classes. 

Of course, work-from-home benefits extend beyond fun, team-building activities, and should also help employees establish comfortable work setups. One way to do this is by providing a home office stipend so workers can purchase items like computer monitors, standing desks, or comfortable work chairs. Giving your employees all the tools they need to succeed can go a long way in boosting their productivity and keeping them focused on their goals. 

How to make contractors feel included

It’s estimated that between 6.9% and 9.6% of all workers are now independent contractors who are less expensive, flexible, and available on demand. While these freelance employees may not benefit from health insurance plans or retirement funds, they still represent a valuable portion of your team, and including them in some of the office perks can prove beneficial for your business m down the line. 

Treat contractors to an employee gift card as a reward for a job well done, or invite them to the next virtual class you’ll all be attending. Creating those bonds — even remotely — can boost their connection to the rest of the team and inspire them to either take on more projects with you or happily help out a team member during a rush project. 

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Backing up: The unique issues today’s employees face

An extraordinary year filled with once-in-a-century challenges has presented employees and their companies with a unique set of hurdles. First and foremost? The growing rate of burnout. 

A recent survey found that while nearly half of U.S. companies reported increased productivity since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, it has come at a human cost: employee well-being is declining.

For workers everywhere, exhaustion and fatigue defined 2020. And even as the world begins to reopen, 2021 has been much of the same: juggling responsibilities, managing stress, and working overtime just to make ends meet. According to a Spring Health study titled Burnout Nation, 76% of U.S. employees are experiencing burnout today.

As the issue continues to mount, researchers are pinpointing a wide range of contributing factors. For employers and companies across the country, the first step to creating an effective employee program is understanding the newest challenges your workers are facing — and then figuring out how to help.

  • Increased hours. Since the start of work from home, the majority of remote employees have been working longer hours, spending more time in meetings, and needing to stay on top of more communication channels. As of December 2020, nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work due to the pandemic reported working on the weekends, and 45% reported regularly working more weekday hours than they did before. It’s been nearly six months since then — and more than a year total of strained schedules and consistent overworking. 
  • Blurred boundaries. For many employees, additional workday and weekend hours stem from a struggle to set boundaries amid remote work. With work life and home life inhabiting the same spaces, drawing the line between both can be difficult — and seeking balance can seem impossible.  
  • Unprecedented stress. Between the global health crisis, widespread economic instability, and a fiercely competitive job market, to say workers are facing additional work-related anxiety is an understatement. As organizations work to bounce back and employees continue to face threats of furloughs, layoffs, and increased financial stress, the stakes remain high — and so does the associated burnout. It’s more than just job stress. Among U.S. employees experiencing worker burnout, 57% say worries about COVID-19 have been a contributing factor, while 33% cite worries about political issues as a source of stress. The state of the world isn’t something employees are taking lightly — and it’s not something that companies can afford to, either. 
  • Prolonged isolation. Beyond the realm of the home office, many employees’ outlets for recharging, relaxing, and blowing off steam have been rendered unavailable by the pandemic — and are only just now starting to resurface. As workers reflect on more than a year of forced isolation, decreased social interaction, and minimal face-to-face collaboration, many employees are finding themselves demoralized and drained — and finding their way back to normal will be significantly easier with the right support.

These are struggles shared by employees across industries and around the world. In addition to these shared stressors, certain sectors have been hit especially hard: 

  • Law. According to Bloomberg Law, and as of March 17, 2021, lawyers work an average of 53 hours per week — a sum significantly higher than the standard 40 — with the least satisfied lawyers working even more. In-house lawyers with the lowest job satisfaction scores work an average of 61 hours per week, while law firm lawyers in the same category clock an average of 58 hours per week. The most satisfied lawyers — 59% of the total surveyed — work approximately 11 hours fewer than their dissatisfied counterparts at in-house jobs. When it comes to burnout-specific statistics, the most dissatisfied lawyers said they feel burnout 74% of the time, with satisfied lawyers still feeling it about 28% of the time. While the numbers vary, the conclusion is clear: increased hours, dissatisfaction, and burnout go hand-in-hand — and many lawyers are bearing the brunt of the mental health burden. 
  • Investment banking. Pre-pandemic, investment banking jobs were known for notoriously long hours and high-pressure environments. But since COVID-19, the issue has escalated. Already-overworked junior bankers are being hit especially hard. The unique economic impact of the pandemic, booming financial markets, and additional sector-specific factors are contributing to breaking point burnout levels. In March 2021, one firm in particular spurred an industry-wide conversation around the issue when a group of first-year analysts circulated a slide deck detailing the mental and physical tolls of their 100-hour weeks. Needless to say, it made an impression.
  • Healthcare. As one might imagine, burnout is particularly pronounced among healthcare workers across all roles and specialties. Studies under the National Institutes of Health reported a surge in new cases of depression and anxiety, and an exacerbation of existing mental health issues across healthcare workers facing heightened emotional and physical tolls of their jobs. These workers share many of the same challenges discussed above, but often to a higher degree: limited resources, longer hours, disruptions to sleep and work-life balance, and occupational hazards associated with COVID-19 have all contributed to physical and mental fatigue, stress and anxiety, and — of course — burnout.

Across all sectors, including those listed above, certain demographics continue to face increased stressors and unique employment challenges. All of the below are factors in the staggering burnout statistics — pointing to a need for better employee support, recognition, and wellness programs.

  • Caregivers. When it comes to blurred boundaries and work-life balance, parents, guardians, and anyone else with children at home are facing significant struggles. A Catalyst study found that many parents believe being a parent is a strike against them in the workplace — and both women and men feel a need to hide their parenting struggles from employers. Even as some schools reopen, 66% of parents say their children will continue to be in 100% remote or virtual learning, and they worry it could have a negative impact on their careers. 41% of parents say they have less job security due to the pandemic and fear being penalized because of their childcare responsibilities, and 42% of parents believe it would be a risk to their employment to take advantage of benefits their workplaces offer to working parents — with more than a third worrying that they could be terminated if they did so.
  • Women. Women carry a particularly heavy weight in the workforce. While all parents face unprecedented circumstances, mothers have faced disproportionate expectations to fulfill household and caregiving responsibilities during the workweek — and 41% of mothers say they must hide their caregiving struggles from their colleagues, with at-home schooling causing stress for 60% of senior-level mothers. Women in general are facing greater anxiety over layoffs, burnout, mental health, health of loved ones, and financial insecurity. In addition to mothers, Bblack women and senior-level women face especially difficult challenges. According to analysis from thethe National Women’s Law Center U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsDepartment, 865,000 women — four times the number of men — dropped out of the workforce in September 2020 as families faced uncertain school reopening plans.
  • Minorities. The pandemic has been concurrent with a rise in Asian and Asian-American racism and hate crimes related to COVID-19-feuled xenophobia, while also coinciding with one of the biggest civil rights movements in history: Black Lives Matter. Both distinct social issues present specific challenges for AAPI and BIPOC employees as they face grief, anger, and increased pressure and burnout amid an already-draining pandemic — and the best companies are offering support to reduce work-related stress through these particularly trying times. 
  • Younger generations. According to a study by Indeed, 53% percent of Millennials were already burned out pre-pandemic, and they remain the most affected population, with 59% experiencing burnout today. Gen-Z faces similar stats, with 58% reporting burnout, up from 47% who said the same in 2020.
  • Older generations. The moral of the story? Burnout doesn’t discriminate against age. The issue is increasingly apparent among older generations, too. Baby Boomers show a 7% increase in burnout from pre-pandemic levels to today, and at 54%, more than half of Gen-Xers are currently burned out — a 14% jump from the 40% who felt this way last year.

It’s clear that burnout is becoming a pandemic of its own. But there are ways that benefits can be adapted to help. As an employer, tailoring your offerings to better fit all employees across demographics, ages, levels, and specialties is essential to reducing the effects of the past year — and promoting resilience and retention well into 2021.  

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Adapting your company benefits to fit all employees

  • Begin with the basics. According to Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey, nearly 70% of professionals feel their employers aren’t doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout within their organization, and 21% percent say their company does not offer any programs or initiatives to prevent or alleviate it. When it comes to building a strong employee wellness program, the first step is simple: offering something always beats offering nothing. 
  • Provide time off and flex time. If we’ve gleaned anything from the above, it’s that increased hours are part of the problem, and employees need a break more than ever. Updating your PTO policy to include a mandatory minimum, adding mental health days in addition to sick days (or simply communicating that they’re folded into the sick policy), and encouraging employees to block out time during the day to take breaks are all great steps to addressing burnout. These might not all work for your organization, but promoting rest and time away — and building them into your benefits — can lead to better productivity, retention, and satisfaction results. 
  • Institute support systems. In some cases, adapting your benefits to fit everyone may mean tailoring offerings to individuals you may have previously overlooked. Maybe some of the groups described above surprised you, or something was addressed that you hadn’t thought of before. Building in support and offerings for those facing particularly challenging circumstances can make a world of difference — communicating that your organization cares and sees employees as the unique individuals they are. 
  • Food perks for all. When it comes to finding an employee program that works for everyone, food is another great place to start. As we mentioned earlier, everyone’s got to eat. Whether your employees are young or old, remote or in-office, feeding one person or an entire family, meal planning can be a big source of stress. Offering perks like DoorDash for Work can help alleviate that burden, bringing delicious meals to your workers wherever they are, whenever they need it.  

Investing in employee programs today, benefitting tomorrow

From retaining talented employees — thus saving on hiring and training costs — to building a skilled, engaged workforce, investing in your employees now will greatly pay off in the future. Learn about the ROI of DoorDash for Work, how delivery services play a part in the modern evolution of company benefits, and how productivity is increased with healthier, nourished employees. 

Are you ready to update your employee wellness program for 2021? Download the DoorDash for Work employee wellness checklist for tips on how to get started.

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author-kristenvannest
Kristen Van Nest
Writer

Kristen Van Nest is an L.A.-based writer with bylines in Forbes, HuffPost, and VentureBeat to name a few. As a former Fulbright Scholar and Newsroom Columnist for the British Chamber of Commerce’s publication in China, she specializes in market trends and strategies businesses can use to grow. Her free time is spent ordering in dumplings and honeycomb ice cream and writing funny content to make people laugh.