Compensation consists of a lot more than just salary alone — there are also the employee benefits you receive, and they can be an equally critical part of the package. After all, from insurance coverage to the size of your retirement savings, benefits can have a tremendous impact on your life outside of the nine-to-five. Perhaps that's why 66 percent of employees say that benefits packages outweigh salaries in determining whether or not they'll take a given job.

Does that sound like you? If so, you might be wondering how COVID-19 has altered the picture — and what best-in-class benefits packages actually look like today. Here's everything you need to know.

the messy state of employee benefits prior to the pandemic

Well before the onset of COVID-19, ample evidence suggested a persistent misalignment between companies and their employees around benefits. For example, past Randstad research found that prior to COVID-19:

  • Only 39 percent of employees were actually happy with the benefits they received.
  • In fact, 42 percent were considering leaving their current roles on account of these inadequate employee benefits packages.
  • Meanwhile, 61 percent said they would be willing to accept a job with a lower base salary if it came with a great benefits package.

In other words, despite the powerful influence that benefits can exert — both in terms of quality of life and hiring outcomes — it seems that employers had been consistently missing the boat.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, how has the picture changed? And what do those changes mean for candidates evaluating the perks and benefits of potential employers going forward?

reconfigured benefits in the wake of COVID-19

Greater flexibility is one of the built-in benefits of remote work, and it’s also something employees have been clamoring for well before the virus hit. In fact, one of the more interesting outcomes of COVID-19 is the extent to which it has forced employers to rethink their benefits packages in ways that align with the quality-of-life perks that employees have been asking for.

Flexibility and remote-work arrangements are a case in point. The option to work from home ceased being a nice-to-have and became a must-have benefit literally overnight. (It's worth pointing out how relatively uncommon working from home was prior to the pandemic: only about seven percent of private-industry workers and four percent of public-industry employees had access to remote-work options, according to the most recent Pew Research.)

Changes like this one are overdue. And while this recent dramatic improvement in workplace flexibility came about not because of strategic action but rather due to necessity, there are also positive signs that companies are proactively making changes to their benefits packages right now, specifically with an eye toward enhancing quality of life for employees.

Let's look at some of those changes — and what best-in-class benefits packages look like today.

what are best-in-class benefits today?

Remember the days when benefits like the following were thought to be the kind of enticements that conferred competitive advantage to employers in the war for top talent?

  • access to on-premises gyms and fitness classes
  • onsite amenities like ping pong tables and video game rooms
  • designated rooms or areas for nap breaks
  • daily catered lunches
  • weekly happy hours

Despite the gradual reopening of businesses across the country, it's clear that these and other benefits designed to enhance the onsite workplace experience are out of touch in our new normal.

So, what benefits should employees look for instead? Best-in-class benefits in a post-COVID-19 world include:

  • mental health consultations included in the employer's telehealth plan
  • reduced or eliminated copays for telehealth visits
  • subsidized student loans and other forms of financial support
  • free access to online learning and professional development platforms
  • free access to online fitness programs
  • benefits tailored to life stages

Benefits that support mental health and wellness, in particular, are going to become table stakes for leading companies. After all, SHRM estimates that anywhere between 22 and 35 percent of the U.S. workforce experienced symptoms of depression during COVID-19. Add to that the fact that research shows isolation can increase mortality by as much as 26 percent and it becomes clear that supporting mental health and wellness should be a business priority.

Companies would be wise to take note, and candidates should evaluate prospective employers with benefits like these in mind.

key takeaways

Prior to the global pandemic, Randstad's research uncovered the jumbled state of employee benefits, in which a full 94 percent of employees said their employers should update their benefits packages in ways that meaningfully improve their quality of life. Awful as the global pandemic has been, this is an opportunity for companies to initiate far-reaching changes to their employee benefits packages — and to be far more responsive to the real needs of their employees.

Time will tell. For now, be sure to keep these tips in mind when analyzing the compensation packages of any potential employer.