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Top pandemic employee perks: Grocery stipends, mental health hours, and pet pawternity leave

September 1, 2020

Whether or not they already have announced publicly that employees can work remotely—until year-end, for the next year, or even forever—businesses that shifted to remote work in the spring seem to have settled in for the long haul, Inc. magazine reports.

Such companies are saving money on rent, travel, and office amenities. But many aren’t keeping all of that found money: They are reallocating some of those funds to help their employees settle in comfortably, too—providing home-office stipends or discounts on ergonomic chairs, monitors, lighting, and Internet upgrades.

In addition, Inc. notes, companies also are introducing perks to meet new needs, such as those related to mental health pressures and child care obligations.

Indeed, the news outlet suggests, there are four areas in which extra employee benefits can generate satisfaction and loyalty among staff members—among them:

  1. Create options for parents. Child care benefits don’t have to be limited to subsidized daycare or babysitting—especially during a pandemic, when many parents aren’t comfortable sending kids to school or using in-home sitters. “What parents need is things taken off their plate so that they can help their kids themselves,” says Jordan Peace, co-founder and CEO of Fringe, a Richmond, Virginia-based benefits startup. That could mean offering flexible work hours, chipping in for virtual babysitting or tutoring, sending kid-focused subscription boxes with meals or activities, or simply giving employees a stipend to use for child care-related expenses.
  2. Replace office snacks with home delivery. Businesses accustomed to lunch meetings and well-stocked office pantries are redirecting that budget to feeding remote employees. Companies like SnackNation and SnackMagic will deliver packaged treats to workers’ homes; while Fringe’s platform, which allows employers to allocate points to individual workers that can be redeemed for a wide variety of benefits and discounts, offers food-delivery services, grocery boxes, and even coffee and tea subscriptions.

Alternatively, you can let employees expense meals or groceries. Wilbur Labs, a “startup studio” in San Francisco that launches and invests in tech companies, ordinarily provides at least one meal per day in its office, co-founder and CEO Phil Santoro tells Inc. Now, each remote employee instead receives a $35 daily food stipend. The company encourages staff to use it at local small businesses, especially Black-owned restaurants and grocery stores, Santoro says.

  1. Go the extra mile on health and wellness. While mental health care was already a growing trend in workplace benefits, the added stress of the pandemic and remote work have led many businesses to formalize their approach, Inc. reports.. Beyond subsidizing therapy and offering subscriptions to apps for meditation, yoga, and fitness, companies are more willing to give employees something that might have seemed unfeasible before: time away from work. Fearing rampant burnout, more businesses are experimenting with a four-day workweek, more generous vacation policies, and flexible scheduling.

Austin-based public-relations agency Kickstand Communications allows employees to step away from their screens for up to three “mental health hours” per week. The company already provided a monthly wellness stipend of $50 per person, and decided not to cut that benefit despite other belt-tightening measures earlier this year, says co-founder and CEO Molly George. She expects the company will continue to prioritize this kind of support. “There’s a kind of trap of feeling like mental health is not as urgent of a situation as it was in the beginning of the pandemic, when things were so scary and so bad,” she says. “But just because it doesn’t feel as urgent doesn’t mean that it’s not just as important as it was five months ago.”

  1. Let employees choose. One easy way to determine which perks are best-suited to your team’s needs in the current climate is to ask your employees. That could yield unexpected results: With pet adoptions on the rise, some companies have opted to pay adoption fees or grant “pet paternity leave.” Others have paid for Netflix subscriptions, matched employee donations to racial-justice organizations or COVID-related charities, or even given out stock options.

Research contact: @Inc