179-student-152133846-738x415ts-crop-600x338When you hear the word “trend” you probably think about things like clothing, hairstyles, or Twitter topics. You probably don’t think about employee benefits. But according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), even those can go in and out of style.

In fact, employee benefits have changed quite a bit, even just in the past 20 years. Take for example telecommuting. Almost no employers offered that option a few decades ago. Now it’s a common practice. Or how about credit union membership? Once a staple in the employee benefit package, this perk is on a rapid decline.

What SHRM’s survey also revealed is that, while the number and types of benefits offered has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, there’s been little change to the basic core employee benefits. Things like health care, retirement plans, and employee assistance programs are all offered at the same level as they were in 1996.

So, while the basic benefits package is still intact, here are some ways benefits have trended in and out over the past 20 years.

Career and Professional Development

Today more employers are willing to invest in their employees’ professional development than they were a few decades ago. In 1996, only 65 percent of employers paid for membership in professional organization. Now 88 percent do. And while only 75 percent offered development opportunities like workshops and seminars back in 1996, 86 percent now provide either onsite or offsite training.


Just over half of employers offered any sort of wellness information or resources back in 1996. That number is up to 72 percent today. However, the types of wellness benefits offered have changed considerably. While we see fewer services like onsite flu vaccines, 24-hour nurse lines, and tobacco-free premium discounts, they’ve been replaced by things like onsite fitness centers, nap rooms, and bonuses for completing wellness programs.

Retirement Benefits

Among the benefits discussed, retirement plans are something that’s definitely “in.” A whopping 94 percent offer some type of retirement plan with 90 percent having a 401(k) or similar defined contribution option. Just over half offer a Roth plan, which allows employees to pay taxes up front so that withdrawals are tax-free during retirement. However, only a quarter offer defined benefit pensions. Most of those were government agencies (65 percent) and utility companies (55 percent).

Almost 3/4 of employers still match some or all of their employees’ 401(k) contributions, while only 37 percent match Roth plans.

Flexible Work Arrangements

This is one area where they survey saw the most drastic changes from 20 years ago. Employers today are much more open to things like flexible work schedules or locations. The most common practice is telecommuting, or working remotely. While only 20 percent of employers let employees work from home in 1996, 80 percent do so today.

Financial Benefits

This is a broad category that includes a wide variety of employee perks, like discounts on company services and other types of compensation. A big trend here was the decrease in credit union memberships, which was down from 70 percent to 23 percent. New monetary bonuses that have emerged include employee referral bonuses, sign-on or retention bonuses, and stipends for employees who use their own devices for work (like laptops and smartphones).

What other trendy benefits are you offering besides the ones we mentioned?