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COVID-19 shifts employee benefits priorities

By June 21, 2022June 27th, 2023No Comments

The Evolution of Workplace Benefits: Shifting Priorities in the COVID-19 Era

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of employers who are offering mental health coverage in 2022 hit a new high of 91% according to the latest edition of the SHRM’s Employee Benefits Survey, released in June 2022.

Gathering data from more than 3,000 HR professionals across the country, the survey illustrates a perhaps unsurprising phenomenon: the COVID-19 pandemic caused a marked shift in which employment benefits are considered priorities by employers.

Survey results suggest that the pandemic’s impact has resulted in lasting changes regarding which benefits are prioritized, or not—even as workplaces begin to settle into a more “normal” era of work.

For example, prior to the pandemic, just 49% of employers identified flexible work benefits as important. While that number increased to 83% during the pandemic, they have settled at 70% in 2022.

Similarly, at peak pandemic in 2020-2021, 76% of employers viewed family care benefits as important, up from 52% pre-pandemic. In 2022, that number has settled at 70%.

In the face of a devastating global pandemic, employers ranked healthcare benefits as the most important type of benefit that an organization can offer its workers. Retirement and leave benefits ranked jointly as number two.

Across the board, workplace benefits have never been more important—and employers’ needs have never been more visible. While family care and flexible work benefits allowed employees to stay home with their children while schools were closed during peak pandemic days, healthcare benefits enabled employees to access life-saving and preventative care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting impacts on economic and public health have expedited the evolving nature of organizations, many of which now have access to wider talent pools through the possibility of remote work,” said SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer, Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP. “These benefits can play an instrumental role in this competition for talent and, in some cases, may determine success or failure.”

Here are some highlights from the report:

Health Care

Nearly all organizations (98%) offer some type of health care coverage, with almost three-quarters (72%) offering a fully insured health plan, and the remaining 26% offering a self-insured plan.

In 2022, 93% of organizations offered telemedicine or telehealth benefits to their employees—a 20% increase since 2019.

Meanwhile, just 1 in 5 employers offer mental health days separate from regular sick leave.

Flexible spending accounts

Medical flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) remain the most popular type of health-related spending accounts. 62% of employers offer FSAs while 57% of employers offer HSAs.

However, just two-thirds of employers make employer contributions to HSA plans—the lowest prevalence since 2018.

Flexible work

63% of employers offer “most of their workers” a hybrid work model, allowing them to work both remotely and in person.

Across all organizations, 62% of employers offer a subsidy or reimbursement for at-home office equipment and expenses. The average amount of reimbursement is $891.

Retirement & savings

82% of employers identify retirement and savings as an important benefit—a 27% increase from 2020-2021.

Most employers offer some type of retirement savings plan to their employees. 94% offer a traditional 401(k) plan, while 76% offer a Roth 401(k).

The majority of employers provide an employer match to retirement plans: 83% contribute to a traditional 401(k) plan while 76% contribute to a Roth 401(k). The maximum percentage salary match for traditional 401(k) plans vs. Roth 401(k) plans are nearly identical, with employers providing a salary match of 6.8% and 6.7%, respectively.

The percentage of employers who automatically enroll new or existing employees into their company’s retirement plan has remained steady since the onset of the pandemic, remaining at 51%.


Leave benefits were among the top-ranked benefits that employers felt an organization should offer, with 82% of employers identifying them as “very important.” Despite this, employers appear to be backtracking on expanded parental leave opportunities since returning back to “more normal” operations in 2022.

In 2020, all types of leave reached their highest prevalence, with 53% of organizations offering paid maternity leave and 44% offering paid paternity leave. Two years later, these numbers have dropped dramatically: only 35% of organizations now offer paid maternity leave, while 24% offer leave for new fathers.

Nearly all employers offer paid vacation (99%) or paid sick leave (96%). 67% of organizations offer a paid time off (PTO) bank covering both vacation and sick time. Just 20% of organizations offer paid mental health days separate from regular sick leave.

Unlimited leave is significantly rarer, with only 6% of responding organizations offering the benefit.

Family care

More than half of organizations (59%) offer a dependent care flexible spending account, enabling employees to directly save funds for child care expenses.

Almost one-third (31%) of organizations said they allow employees to bring their children to work in an emergency as a benefit.

Professional development

The number of employees who feel that professional development benefits are important grew to 65% in 2022. More than three-quarters of employers (78%) cover opportunities to develop new skills—a 3% increase from 2021.

Slightly less than half (48%) of employers offer undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance as a benefit.


Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Richmond, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CBS 6 News, the Los Angeles Times, and Arlington Magazine, among others. She writes weekly nonprofit-specific content for

(Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay.)

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