Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Employee Benefits: What’s ‘In’ and What’s ‘Out’

As the economy has improved over the last few years, the war for talent has only gotten hotter. Now that the unemployment rate is reaching near-record lows, it’s more and more difficult for businesses to find quality talent to fill important roles.

One of the best ways for a company to differentiate itself from the pack is, of course, offering great employee benefits. For some workers, it’s no longer enough to receive just a competitive salary and health insurance — and understandably so.  

But benefits that appealed to workers in the past may not fly for the job candidates of today. Our concepts of work and work-life balance have changed, and benefits packages must change to reflect that.

Here’s an employee benefits list covering many of the most popular benefits on offer today—as well as a few that have lost their luster and don’t impress like they used to:

6 employee benefits you should offer

Flexibility in all its forms

Allowing for flexibility in how people approach their work—whether that means variable work hours, remote work/teleworking, the freedom to take time off as needed—is becoming more than a “perk.” It’s increasingly an expected part of company culture for many businesses.

According to the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends report, over the last four years there’s been a 24% increase in the number of people who say flexible work arrangements is a “very important factor” when considering a new job.

Flexibility is a broad term, but you should incorporate it into your workplace as much as you can. Worry less about whether people are sitting at their desks at certain hours, and more about whether they get results. Not only will this appeal to candidates, but it can be good for the bottom line: The LinkedIn report says letting people work from home boosts productivity and prevents turnover.

Career development and continuing education

Candidates want to know that their potential employer has their best interests at heart. Offering to help that candidate become a more well-rounded professional—by helping develop their soft skills (such as communication and leadership) and hard skills (role-specific knowledge and abilities) is a win-win in that regard.

Using online learning, workplace-hosted events, workshops, organizational membership, and learning stipends that can be applied across a wide-range of continuing education opportunities at local schools, companies can dangle an attractive carrot: Come work for us, and we’ll make you even more attractive as a candidate in the future. (The best part? Career development ends up improving retention, not encouraging employees to jump ship.)  

Paid family leave

In many ways, the United States lags behind other industrialized nations regarding family and even just maternity leave. The U.S. joins Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and a few other nations that don’t mandate paid maternity leave.

If you want to get ahead, offer not just paid maternity leave, but “parental leave,” which includes new adoptive parents and same-sex couples. This is an increasingly common benefit, and it’s not only a more humane, empathetic approach, but it’s a good way to appeal to candidates without raising wages.

Mental health support

As a society, we are becoming more aware of the importance of mental health, as well as removing the stigma from it.

Allotting a certain number of mental health days in addition to regular paid time off encourages people to be forthcoming about when they need self-care. Additionally, offering confidential counseling services is an excellent benefit—look into contracting an employee assistance program (EAP), which helps employees and organizations deal with both personal and work-related issues.

Volunteer days

Employees want to feel that they’re making a difference, not just making a profit. Millennials in particular (now the largest generation in the workforce) want to work for a company that gives to charity over one that doesn’t.

Create the occasional volunteer day—perhaps a quarterly or bi-annual event—where the entire company takes off and volunteers together for a local charity, organization, or cause.  

Swap holidays

This concept goes hand-in-hand with workplace flexibility, though you could offer it while keeping more traditional workplace hours.

Not every national holiday or religious holiday carries the same meaning to every employee. Tell candidates you’d happily let them work certain holidays (assuming that they can get work done on that day—some holidays, like Christmas Day, most businesses are closed anyway) and give them off other days in return. This could allow someone to build out a long weekend or extended holiday without sacrificing their regular time off.  

3 employee benefits you can live without

Unlimited vacation

The concept of “unlimited vacation” is relatively new but it’s already gaining some detractors. On the surface, telling people they can take off whenever they want, for as long as they want, as often as they want appears to be the ultimate perk.

But some research shows that employees with unlimited vacation end up taking off less time than they did when their PTO was defined. This can lead to burnout, dissatisfaction over mismatched expectations, and uncertainty. Instead, increase your PTO—and encourage people to take it.  

Wellness programs

Another concept that sounds better in practice than it is in reality, wellness programs have their heart in the right place: Encourage and help employees be healthier, in order to reduce sick days, burnout, and overall stress.

Research by professors at Wharton, however, found that most generalized corporate wellness programs fail to make a dent in people’s behaviors. In addition, some programs make people feel uncomfortable from the standpoint that they require submitting to health monitoring by their employer.

Consider subsidizing employees’ gym memberships, offering healthier snacks and meals at the office, and other small steps that show you care about employee health.  

Employee discounts

Offering workers a smattering of deals and discounts that may or may not align with what they want or need isn’t much of a perk. Prospective employees can ask about what deals are in place, and if they are valuable discounts to them, great. But many people recognize that the deals on offer are rarely “good” deals for them and are mostly window dressing.


Deciding what employee benefits to invest in is a tough decision for any company. Small and medium-sized businesses in particular must choose carefully when competing with larger, more well-known companies like Netflix and Spotify, in order to entice without overspending. A good place to start is this thought: look into investing in what’s been resonating with people, and move away from those that don’t move the needle.

About the Author

Eric GoldscheinEric Goldschein is the partnerships editor at Fundera, with nearly a decade of experience in digital media. He writes extensively on finance, HR, marketing, entrepreneurship, and small business trends.

Connect with Eric on LinkedIn, where you can also follow Fundera, or reach out to them on twitter.

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