Commuter perks and fertility benefits are on the chopping block

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As the Great Resignation raged on last year, companies and organizations ramped up their compensation and benefits packages to keep workers in their seats. 

But those perks and big pay raises are set to experience a rollback this year as employers tighten their belts amid economic uncertainty and sky-high interest rates. Raises are already set to be smaller. Now it seems that benefits are on the chopping block as well. Nearly half (47%) of companies surveyed plan to trim employee benefits this year, according to Care.com’s 2023 Future of Benefits survey of 500 U.S.-based human resources executives and professionals.

The most popular benefits executives are keen to curtail? Adoption and fertility assistance, as well as commuter benefits, according to Care.com. 

Even among those companies who are cutting benefits, 95% admitted to “recalibrating” their benefit strategies in 2023.

What we’re seeing is that companies are pulling back on the more “boutique benefits,” Tim Allen, CEO of Care.com, tells Fortune. When it comes to fertility benefits, for example, employers are more likely to cut back on one-off, specialized programs—especially because many health care plans are actually boosting their offerings in this space. “You do have the baseline of services still available, but I think HR buyers are being more discreet about adding [the] Rolls-Royce of benefits.”

Trimming commuting benefits may also create problems. Many employers offered these benefits—which range from programs that allow workers to use tax-free dollars to pay for commuting costs to stipends and even discounted or free private transportation services—in an effort to lure employees back into the office on a regular basis. But with the average American paying about $8,466 per year on fuel, vehicle maintenance, and travel time to get to work, cutting these perks may result in more remote work.

“A lot of people are going back into the office, a lot of employers are saying come back to a hybrid environment. But also with that hybrid environment, you don’t necessarily need the full, customized program of commuter benefits,” Allen says. Many employers are looking for “cost optimization” versus a complete cost removal, he adds.

Employees’ reactions to the reduction or loss of certain benefits, of course, will vary. Cutting back on health and fitness benefits—including perks such as gym reimbursements—will likely have a minimal impact on employee recruitment and retention. But care benefits, including senior caregiving and childcare, which about a third of organizations are eying to cut, can make a much bigger impact.  

In fact, eight in 10 respondents acknowledged childcare benefits have a positive impact on productivity and nearly as many also agreed this support boosts talent recruitment and retention. And workers are still very much demanding these benefits, Allen says. Care benefits are becoming synonymous with health insurance, dental, 401(k)s, and the types of expected benefits for white collar workers.

So while it may save organizations money now, cutting core benefits may be shortsighted—especially given that the top reason workers cited for changing jobs last year was better employer-sponsored benefits. Allen, for his part, doesn’t see care benefits getting scaled back signficantly, but rather companies focusing on perks that workers can live without. “When you’re talking about childcare, you’re talking about missing work and productivity. This is one you can’t be without. It’s an economic case that makes sense,” he says.

Benefits like paid parental leave, childcare, and flexible work schedules also can help “inflation-proof” employees’ wallets by reducing out-of-pocket costs, according to recent research from Bank of America’s ESG research. Researchers found that companies offering these benefits tend to trade at premiums compared to those who don’t (or only minimal supports).

With an unclear economic forecast still lingering, Allen says to expect companies—even those taking more of a long-term perspective—to analyze their benefit packages, aiming to provide employees with programs and perks that provide the most value to workers and the organization as a whole.

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