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Free therapy sessions, student loan refinancing, and paid miscarriage leave: What perks employees expect in 2022

December 28, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Employers, get ready to upgrade your benefits.

As the Great Resignation continues, employees have the upper hand—and a long list of benefits they’re expecting companies to offer. Here’s a short list of what employees want most in 2022.

Mental health

The new year will bring “a perfect storm of mental health needs,” Russell Glass, CEO of Headspace Health, told Fortune. The combination of isolation, loneliness, health worries for one’s self or one’s family, and caretaker worries all add up to what Glass calls a second pandemic in and of itself. To most business leaders, this won’t come as a surprise. One November survey found 40% of employers expanded their mental health benefits since the pandemic began. 

Mental health support is no longer a nice-to-have, Glass said. “Employees need this support in order to succeed at their jobs.”

Many HR teams are doubling down on investments in the mental well-being space, often through employee assistance programs (EAPs), Lauren Uranker, director of corporate relationship management at Goldman Sachs’s Ayco Personal Financial Management practice, told Fortune. This can look like increasing the number of covered therapy sessions, or extending mental-health care benefits to all members of an employee’s family. 

“There’s a recognition that the company is often the main source of wealth generation and benefit usage within a family structure, so companies are looking for ways to extend those further,” she said.

Headspace Health, formed through the merger of meditation app Headspace and virtual mental health provider Ginger.io, offers preventative treatments, like mindfulness training and guided meditation, alongside behavioral health coaching, talk therapy, and psychiatry.

According to SilverCloud Health’s 2021 Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Checkup, about two-thirds of employees in the workforce have clinically measurable anxiety or depression, Fortune reported earlier this year. To make matters worse, 40% of workers said their employer hadn’t done enough to support their mental health during the pandemic, according to an October survey of 3,000 full-time workers by Calm for Business

“Boards and executive teams have to be thinking about this to ensure they’re able to sustain the workforce through these increasingly difficult times,” Glass said. “The mental health crisis will bring a dramatic decrease in productivity; people will be absent from work and unable to deliver at the level you’d want them to, or that they’d want to. That’s a business continuity issue.”

The 1970 founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was an integral step toward addressing workplace safety, noted Glass: “There were environments in which workers were not treated well, and their safety wasn’t considered, which resulted in a lot of injuries. We’re now moving into an era where mental health must be considered on the same plane as physical health in order to deliver the shareholder value CEOs are hired to deliver.”

But there’s a “pretty telling” gap between intent and impact, he added. Per Headspace data, 96% of CEOs say they’re doing enough for employee mental health, but only 69% of surveyed employees say the same. “Even if employers are investing in it, or think they’re investing in it, either they aren’t communicating it well enough, or they’re using a siloed approach to a pervasive issue instead of thinking holistically,” Glass said. 

Financial planning

At Goldman Sachs, Uranker works primarily with HR partners who, she said, have come to see how all aspects of employee well-being interconnect. 

“There’s prevalent data showing how financial well-being impacts mental well-being,” Uranker told Fortune. “We feel responsible for helping employers and large organizations improve their employees’ financial wellness, because it has a real tie-in with each individual we work with.” 

To that end, in 2022, employees will be most centered on financial planning and wellness benefits, Uranker said, which have the greatest overall correlation with well-being. 

“Based on data we collected between 2019 and 2021, there’s been an 11% increase in companies offering a financial wellness benefit, a trend we think will continue,” she said. Another area, particularly in personal finance, was emergency savings support. Goldman Sachs’s financial wellness assessment data from 2021 found that 45% of respondents didn’t have emergency savings sufficient to cover six months of living expenses. 

Many organizations, throughout the pandemic, found their people weren’t prepared for emergencies, and often had to rely on taking out 401(k) loans. “Many companies want to slow that trend down, and are figuring out if an emergency savings benefit, like a partnership with a credit union, could be helpful,” Uranker said.

Additional benefits employees will seek next year are identity theft protection and group legal plans, both of which have become popular voluntary employer-sponsored benefit programs. 

“I’m seeing companies ask themselves, ‘How do your benefits show empathy and address the unique employee personas?’” Uranker said. “Many organizations have folks anywhere between right out of college all the way to contemplating retirement. They’re really giving more thought to being empathetic right now; everything from, ‘How does leadership impact the culture?’ to ‘How do our benefits protect it?’” 

Miscarriage and other leave policies

While each in unique situations, many companies are aiming to meet individual needs when outlining benefits. “We’re moving far away from a one-size-fits-all approach,” Uranker said. “It can no longer meet the needs of a diverse and evolving workforce.”

Many organizations are also weighing how their benefit packages reflect on their culture. For instance, Uranker points to Goldman Sachs’s newly instituted 20 days of paid leave for those experiencing miscarriages. “Even though my wife and I won’t be starting a family, I felt really good about working for an organization that cared enough to extend leave for something like that,” she said. 

This extends to Ayco’s clients, 30% of whom offer some type of student loan benefit assistance, she said, in forms like refinancing and fixed contributions. 

“Whether it’s mental health, financial well-being benefits, or health care benefits, all of those things aim to make someone a happier, more productive part of an organization,” Uranker said. “I certainly think there is a value-driven mission behind a well-thought-out benefit offering.” 

Ultimately, these packages work toward what has in recent months been companies’ overarching goal: retention. “Saving people time, maximizing what’s being offered to them, and helping them understand the complexities and nuances within an organization’s compensation benefit plans will remain a paramount focus in 2022,” she said.

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