8 employee benefits to be thankful for this year

No one could have imagined the twists and turns 2020 brought to the workplace, and savvy employers quickly adapted their benefit offerings.

From providing mental health support for employees dealing with record levels of stress and anxiety, to expanding access to retirement plans and financial tools, employers found innovative ways to provide benefits during tumultuous times.

According to a study by McKinsey, 78% of employees are satisfied with how their employer responded to the challenges of COVID-19. As employers and employees begin to reflect on the past several months and look toward 2021, here are eight employee benefits to be thankful for this holiday season and beyond:

Flexible PTO and sick leave

The coronavirus pandemic redefined the workplace and employers adapted their leave policies to expand paid time off and provide more flexibility around work hours.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March, ensured all employees receive two weeks of paid sick leave to care for themselves or loved ones with the virus. In addition, Microsoft offered parents 12 weeks of PTO to help them deal with school closures, and Anthem offered employees up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave for those impacted. Chipotle corporate employees are now eligible for unlimited PTO.

“We wanted to alleviate any additional concerns should they be directly impacted by the coronavirus and may need time to take care of themselves or a loved one,” says Gail Boudreaux, Anthem CEO.

Child care benefits

For working parents, COVID-19 has been a balancing act of work and home responsibilities. Sixty percent of parents had no child care support and spent an additional 27 hours per week on homeschooling and other household tasks in the initial months of the pandemic, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey.

Employers including JPMorgan Chase and Synchrony boosted childcare benefits to include tutoring services, emergency child care support and virtual support groups for parents. For Bryan Aycock, director of benefits at Zynga and Employee Benefit News’ 2020 Benny Award Winner, helping working families keep their heads above water was top priority at the start of the pandemic.

“Our partnership with Bright Horizons implemented a crisis care program where employees could get reimbursed $100 a day to give to a neighbor or a relative so the parents could work,” he says.

Mental health support

With stress, anxiety and burnout on the rise, employers are seeking new ways to support workers struggling with poor mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 80% of U.S. employees have experienced mental health issues due to the coronavirus, according to a survey by Lyra Health.

Employers turned to telehealth resources and other virtual health tools like meditation apps to aid workers struggling with stress. Employers like Starbucks began offering all employees access to free therapy. Lyra Health, a mental health benefits provider, recently partnered with the Calm app to provide employees with sleep tools, resilience training and one-on-one behavioral coaching.

“Mental health is affecting all of us this year, and we’ve been chipping away at the stigma this year more than in previous years,” says Joe Grasso, clinical director of partnerships at Lyra Health. “The comfort of telehealth makes mental healthcare access more feasible, and it’s just as useful and effective.”

Financial wellness

As the pandemic sent shockwaves through the U.S. labor market with layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, employers made sure to support employees through financial challenges with benefits like early wage access, automated savings programs and education resources.

More than half of Americans' financial health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, according to Prudential. To combat these challenges, Prudential provided a suite of educational seminars to teach employees about budgeting and building an emergency fund.

Gusto, a payroll and employee benefits platform for small businesses, launched Gusto Cashout, which gives workers early access to earned wages without any fees, so employees can avoid loans, overdraft fees or credit card debt between paychecks.

Health and fitness options

The transition to remote work means employees may be more sedentary than before. To help employees alleviate stress and stay physically active, new virtual fitness offerings are becoming a must-have employee benefit during COVID-19.

Classpass has partnered with employers including Reward Gateway and Sana Benefits to offer more than 200 hours worth of streaming fitness and well-being classes, including cardio, pilates, yoga and meditation. Cigna and Kaiser Permante are offering employees access to BurnAlong, an online video health and wellness service. The platform partners with gyms, studios and fitness instructors to offer individual sessions or group classes for colleagues to participate in together.


Mental and physical health have been top concern for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and access to care has become much more accessible as employers shift to telehealth offerings. More than 90% of companies have encouraged their workers to take advantage of EAP resources like telehealth and virtual mental health programs, according to the Business Group on Health.

“There is a realization to [employers] that telemedicine is not ‘nice to have.’ It’s really an essential benefit,” says Justin Holland, CEO of HealthJoy, a benefits provider.

Employers encouraged the use of telehealth for preventative care, mental health and other services by waiving copays and incorporating the benefit into healthcare plans. HealthJoy created a new QuickLaunch program that expands access to telemedicine and other concierge health services.

Pet benefits

Employees are becoming more dependent on their pets for emotional support during the challenges of the pandemic. While only 15% of employers offer pet insurance, 62% of millennials prioritize their pet’s health before their own.

Employers like SAP, Wolverine Worldwide and Microsoft all offer employees a pet benefit like dog daycare or pet insurance. Progressive is now offering employer clients the option to offer pet insurance through their benefit programs with PetsBest. SAP is working with Petco to offer telehealth vet services and discounts on pet supplies.

“We recognize that pets are often important members of the family and can help our employees feel safe and secure — especially during times of stress,” says Jason Russell, head of North America total rewards for SAP.

Fertility and family planning support

For employees seeking to expand their families, employers have continued to bolster support for family planning benefits like in vitro fertilization, egg freezing, surrogacy and adoption support.

Maven, a women’s and family health benefit platform, has expanded their offerings throughout the pandemic to fill in needs around fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and pediatric care. Carrot Fertility partnered with Ava, an ovulation tracking app, to add to their benefits line up. A new parental benefits startup, StorkClub, hopes to offset the often prohibitive costs associated with fertility treatments through supplemental insurance offerings. The insurance can also benefit LGBTQ employees during their family planning journey.

“Maternity care was designed 50 years ago for a young heterosexual family where the mother stayed home. That’s not today’s family,” says Jeni Mayorskaya, CEO and founder of Stork Club.