Employees have high expectations for the benefits and perks that come with the job.

Ninety-two percent of employees say benefits are important to their job satisfaction, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. As employees deal with stressors from the pandemic, benefits are filling in critical gaps with childcare, mental health, financial assistance, and more.

If employers want to retain employees and encourage productivity and well-being, they need to embrace remote perks and adapt quickly, says Rhiannon Staples, chief marketing officer of Hibob, an HR people management platform.

“It's very hard to know and assume what it is that your people need,” Staples says. “Something as simple as a home office stipend could really change the perspective and experience for an employee. Companies need to reach out and get that collective feedback so that they can make investments.”

Employees are ready to look elsewhere if they aren’t getting what they need — a quarter of employees say they plan to quit their jobs after COVID, according to a survey by Eagle Hill Consulting. Fifty-seven percent say that benefits and perks are a top consideration when accepting a job, according to Glassdoor.

“Your benefits are a big part of what you offer to employees. Not everyone is motivated purely by financial means,” Staples says. “If you want to be able to attract the best talent, you need to have the best offerings for them. There's so much more that people are looking to get out of the employee experience.”

In a recent interview, Staples shared which benefits are the new must-haves and how employers can make benefit plans that keep employees satisfied after the pandemic has passed.

What are some big changes employers have made to their benefit plans this past year?

Think about some of the benefits and perks that were being offered a year and a half ago, like commuter benefits, office kitchens, and happy hours — those things are all gone. Organizations are focusing more on health and wellness and making an investment in the well-being of their employees because they recognize how it ties to the bottom line.

Organizations are also shifting their budgets to employee learning and development programs. The need to level up and upskill their employees is a valuable investment for them to make, not only for their employees but ultimately for the company as well. Companies bringing their teams together in unique and different ways, despite the fact that we're all dispersed. A lot of companies are breaking down those geographic or regional barriers to focus on company culture and not worksite culture through virtual events.

Organizations are making investments to help people get set up properly to work from home. We heard very quickly from people that they didn't have an adequate set-up at home to be able to work effectively. A lot of businesses are offering stipends to purchase the equipment they need to be able to function effectively from home.

Do you think employers will change their benefits once employees return to the physical workplace?

We're not going back to the office the way that it was. A lot of employers have focused on flexibility, which might have been a perk in the beginning, but now it's a baseline assumption for employees. Employees recognized the benefits of flexibility and employers can now attract the best talent by offering this perk of hiring from anywhere in the world. Employers also recognize that there are decreased costs for maintaining that overhead for full-time employees in the office every day of the week.

It's very hard to take something back when you've offered it for a period of time. A lot of the perks that are being offered in response to the circumstances will stick around because employers recognize that it's a way for them to appeal to the best candidates possible.

What should employers be doing to stay on top of the benefits employees want so they don’t look for work elsewhere?

Ask questions upfront about what people need and then use surveys at regular points throughout the benefits lifecycle to get feedback on the value that's been received by employees and weigh that against their changing and evolving needs.

Do a business health check so you understand: are we delivering on the things that [your employees] need and expect from a benefits perspective? Organizations should also mine the market and watch what others in the space, particularly other companies you compete with for talent, are doing. Understand what benefits and perks are being offered by others in the market, and make sure your packages are comparable.