Family-Friendly Benefits vs. Work Perks: Which Will Win the War for Talent?

Benefits and Compensation Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Talent

When Millennials entered the workforce, employers had to break the mold to get this generation of workers into their organizations. Trendy perks like nap pods and happy hours were touted as a way to stand out among employers looking to compete for the same talent. Now that we’re living in the COVID era, the benefits game has changed yet again.


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According to findings from the “Work + Life Report,” a research study by conducted as the first effects of the COVID-19 pandemic swept across America, family-friendly benefits are the most attractive to all workers.

The survey asked 1,254 full-time American workers how family-friendly benefits, like backup child care, affect employee productivity, recruitment, retention, and attrition, as well as how they influence what brands or stores consumers favor.

In the best of times, families struggle to balance work with caring for children and elderly family members. Over the past decade, the cost to U.S. businesses in lost productivity due to care-related absenteeism, distraction, adjustments, and turnover was in the multibillions annually. Yet, before the current COVID-19 crisis, employers at large were still slow to register the full impact of care issues in the workplace or to respond to demands of employees for more support.

COVID-19 Shifts the Benefits Landscape

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has so brutally revealed is that a sustainable balance between work and family life is crucial for both personal and economic well-being,” says Scott Healy, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Care@Work, in a press release. “American workers, both as employees and consumers, choose whom to work for and whom to buy from based on how companies treat their workforce, and the Work + Life Report shows that family-friendly benefits are among the key criteria on which companies are being judged.”

Across all respondents, from Gen Z to Baby Boomers, both salaried and hourly and male and female, family care benefits ranked highly as a reason to stay at a current job or pursue a new one. Flexibility, paid family leave, and subsidized backup child care all ranked above commuter benefits, student loan assistance, and tuition reimbursement, and half of respondents even said that a company’s offering family-friendly benefits is important when choosing an employer—whether they personally need the benefit or not.

The report also shows that for many American workers, a care crisis was already in full swing before the current pandemic hit. While 86% of respondents said they’ve had to stay home from work to care for a family member at least a few times per year, more than half (53%) said it’s happened as often as once per week.

Another 53% said they’ve arrived late or left early up to once a week because a family member needed care, with 83% saying it happened at least a few times per year. And 63% said that care issues forced them to cut back on their regular hours—a number that climbs to 70% among those who care for an elderly family member.

Child Care, Elder Care—Employees CARE About Family Benefits

These care responsibilities—and employers’ failure to help navigate them—are leading employees to feel they’re failing at work and at home. Almost half (47%) said they’ve missed family events due to work as often as once per week. Another 73% said they occasionally feel like they’re letting down the people who need their care, with 52% saying they feel that way as often as once a week. And 72% said they’ve had to scramble to find someone else to care for a family member at the last minute.

But making sacrifices at home isn’t necessarily making them better workers. A full 80% of respondents admitted they’ve felt distracted at work, 66% said their job performance has suffered, and 62% have missed a meeting or deadline due to family responsibilities.

This growing reality about work/life integration challenges extends beyond work; it’s also shaping consumer behavior. The research found that employees see family-friendly benefits as a prime marker of socially responsible companies—a quality that influences both jobseekers and consumers.

Additionally, 83% of respondents agreed that offering family-friendly benefits—like paid leave or backup care—matches the definition of a socially responsible company, ranking above sustainability programs, and 84% said treating workers well is important in helping them decide which brand or store to buy from.

Final Thoughts

Flexibility and remote work were some of the unique work perks that employers were just starting to implement before the crisis was full blown, and once stay-at-home orders were put in place across the country, employers had little choice but to adapt.

As we’re seeing now, remote work may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when 41% of employees feel burnt out, drained, or exhausted from their work, according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report. However, the flexibility that remote work provides is a great benefit for workers with family care needs and for those who may be fearful about going back into the workplace.

In February 2020, the “Work + Life Report” captured responses from 1,254 U.S. residents across a wide array of industries, all of whom work enough hours to be eligible for employer benefits. To access the complete report, click here.

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