When it comes to employee benefits, it's easy to feel like nothing changes. The calendar flips to January, and you often just retain the same benefits you did the year before. You wind up feeling grateful as long as the costs don't rise. 

But in a few important ways, the benefits you've come to laconically accept will be changing in 2016. Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management, says the main trends pertain to worker education and family-leave time.

Whether you similarly change your own array of offerings this year or not, it's vital to stay up on what's coming down the pike. Not only might it help you better attract and retain top talent, you might actually get wind of cost-savings you never knew about. With this in mind, the following is a look at the latest benefits trends poised to give you something to consider in the new year.

Education and Leave 

More employers will follow the lead of PricewaterhouseCoopers, says Elliott. The giant accounting firm announced last year that it would pay up to $7,200 in student debt for employees--as much as $1,200 a year for six years. He also sees companies emulating partnerships like the one Starbucks has with Arizona State University, in which Starbucks will reimburse part- or full-time employees' pursuit of a bachelor's degree. 

As for family leave, Elliott expects companies to go the route of private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, which recently extended paid leave for new parents, and announced it would let employees take both their babies and their caregivers on business trips--on the company's dime. The parent-friendly moves are part of a larger trend that began to make waves in 2015. Netflix, for example, now gives new parents unlimited maternity or paternity leave during the first year after the child's birth or adoption. Amazon, Microsoft, and Adobe also extended their leave policies, though none went as far as Netflix. 

Why is all of this happening now? Two reasons. First, notes Elliott, benefits like this help in recruiting and retaining female employees. Second, it's election season. "The candidates on both sides of the aisle are talking about this more, and you can bet it'll be a campaign issue later on," he says.

Of course, large companies aren't the only ones that need benefits to win recruiting battles. Often, it's fast-growth, entrepreneurial companies that are on the cutting edge of new benefits offerings, since they are adding talent at a breakneck pace to keep up with the burgeoning demands for their services.

Mobile Health

Lyft VP of people Ron Storn knows all about the pressures of adding staff quickly. At the end of 2014, the car-sharing startup had about 380 employees. Today, it has more than 700. What's more, it's a dispersed group of 700. Whereas the company was once based only out of its San Francisco headquarters, it's now building offices in Nashville (customer service) and Seattle (engineering), not to mention 10 to 15 other regional offices. 

When Storn thinks of benefits that will emerge in 2016, one of the first trends he thinks of is health care benefits that are mobile-friendly. For example, Lyft is partnering with a company called One Medical Group, a provider of technology-enabled primary care. The partnership gives Lyft employees 24/7 access via mobile app to a virtual care team, which can help them treat allergies and renew prescriptions without an office visit. One Medical also offers same-day appointments with doctors in 40 offices in seven major metro areas. A benefit like that is ideal for Lyft, Storn says, because there are so many employees who are either traveling or new to a particular city. "It's great for our employees because of the convenience," he says. "They can go to a new city and have fewer distractions, not worrying about what doctors to see." 

Mind and Body Fitness

Joris Luijke, VP of people at Grovo, is another human resources expert who knows all about recruiting and retaining in fast-growth environments. Grovo, which is based in New York City, creates employee-training videos for clients like Sotheby's and SurveyMonkey. It has 190 employees, raised $15 million last year, and has raised more than $20 million overall. Mind you, Luijke has only been at Grovo for three months. But he was previously vice president of human resources at Squarespace, which has raised more than $80 million. Before that, he was vice president of talent at Atlassian, which had one of the strongest IPOs of 2015 ($460 million). So he knows what it's like to compete for high-stakes talent. 

Ask Luijke about benefits you're likely to see more of in 2016, and the first thing he speaks about is a new, more specialized focus on employee fitness and emotional well being. For example, a standard fitness benefit might be something like reimbursement for a gym membership. But Luijke sees companies making a focal point of fitness--going out of their way to make sure a stressful, full-time job doesn't come at the expense of exercise and eating right. 

Grovo, for example, employs a full-time personal trainer. Employees can sign up for one-on-one advisory sessions with him, or simply take his classes at the in-office company gym. The company also has a dedicated nap room for relaxing, meditating, or actually napping. "There's this real movement to making emotional and physical health more of an explicit part of the employee benefits," he says. Luijke further makes the case that your company will see a lasting ROI if you make a large investment in the health of your employees

Flexible Hours

When it comes to family leave, he also sees a trend in which employers do more than just provide paid time off. Like KKR, which pays for employees to take their babies and their caregivers on business trips, Luijke envisions a benefits scenario in which companies become more thoughtful about employee reintegration into the workplace, after an extended time away. One possible solution he foresees is simply allowing employees to work three or four days a week before returning to full-time schedules. 

If, after reading all this, you find yourself wondering what steps to take to attract talent with novel twists on your benefits, both Luijke and Storn have some straightforward advice: Ask your employees. Survey them. Talk to them. Do it regularly. Lyft, for example, found out about One Medical because a handful of employees were using it on their own anyway. After learning about it from employee surveys, Storn became convinced that it was the right thing for the growing company to do. 

Published on: Jan 25, 2016