Beyond Essential Employee Benefits: Free COVID-19 Testing to Emotional Wellness Perks | BRIO

The pandemic has inspired HR and leadership teams to expand essential employee benefits.While salaries may be stagnant, workplace perks can keep people engaged. In particular, free COVID-19 testing benefits both employers and employees

The pandemic has inspired many HR and leadership teams to take a closer look at their suite of essential employee benefits. Health insurance and PTO  continue to be top priorities, of course. But what are some of the other great work perks that propel employers to the top of the list of best places to work? This is important because it’s predicted that salaries may not go up much in the coming years. Even as the impact of the virus is neutralized, wage growth in the wake of high unemployment rates is expected to be minimal. The impact of a stagnant economy will be felt in bonuses and benefits, as well. 

Benefits Matter

However, companies don’t have to break the bank to implement creative employee benefits packages. Select your benefits carefully and they can pay for themselves by enhancing morale, decreasing attrition and increasing productivity. Now is the perfect time to rethink your benefits. That’s because:

  • Employees, understanding the reality of the current economic environment, have adjusted their expectations.
  • Labor force dynamics, driven by increasing numbers of millenials, are shifting as values are changing.
  • On the heels of the pandemic, a more remote and agile workforce has needs that differ from the office-bound workers of the past.

Need more proof that benefits matter? Consider the following: 

  • In a comparison of Harris Poll numbers to actual Bureau of Labor Department statistics, people tend to overestimate the value of their benefits packages by some 30%.
  • Eighty percent of those surveyed would choose a job with benefits over the same job with no benefits and a 30% increase in pay. 

Creative Benefits that Attract New Employees and Reward the Old

Workplace perks mean a lot to employees, even beyond their monetary value. They can keep people happy and engaged long after the escalating cost of living outpaces their last pay raise. This is good news for employers who want to attract and retain the best people. Before you start revamping your benefits policies, however, think about your goals. Be as intentional about the benefits you offer as you are other aspects of your talent management strategy. Consider:

  • Will employees actually use the benefit?
  • Is the perceived value greater than the cost?
  • Is there a benefit that will appeal to most of the company’s job categories, e.g., full-time, part-time, seasonal, contract, remote, etc.?
  • Will the benefit help the company achieve its goals, i.e. reduced downtime, greater productivity, etc.?

During and after the pandemic, employee wellness is critically important. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you neglect other activities that engage teams and help them feel a part of the larger picture, including your employee’s financial fitness and career development needs. To get your creative juices flowing, here are some of the particularly salient benefits companies are offering in the current environment.

Health and wellness stipend

Zoom Video Communications is a top contender in the health and wellness benefit category for its $300 monthly employee stipend for gym memberships and other health-related expenses. Many companies do the same. However, Christchurch Advertising, a tiny New Zealand agency, is particularly inventive. They offer a $10 daily stipend for employees who commute by bike. The extra money promotes a healthy lifestyle, energizes the staff and makes Christchurch more vibrant and liveable. 

Mental health support

According to researchers, mental health is on the decline. That’s understandable due to the pandemic. Salesforce, a cloud computing company, expanded its existing free counseling benefits by offering free articles and webinars focused on mental health. Many companies are piloting or expanding their mental health support, recognizing that they may be ideally positioned to provide access to mental health professionals for their employees who may not otherwise seek help. Among the most vulnerable? Those with parenting and caregiving responsibilities, as well as others who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

Food delivery stipend for lunch-and-learns

When Teampay, a Manhattan-based software company, was forced to close its headquarters during the early days of the pandemic, they didn’t put their popular lunch-and-learn program on hold. Rather, the company moved them online, offering employees a $20 weekly stipend for lunch delivery so that they can still enjoy the activity from their home offices. This reinforces the company’s emphasis on continual learning while strengthening the work culture and providing employees with opportunities to demonstrate leadership. 

Financial wellness tools

Americans, many of whom were homebound during the pandemic, saved money at record levels. Still, the amount of debt for the average American climbed from $66,600 pre-COVID to $74,237. Nearly four out of five people with high financial stress report that the issue affects their work life. Financial emergencies affect employees across the economic spectrum. The hardest hit are those forced to take off time from work. 

Free COVID testing

Under federal guidelines, insurance companies must cover testing with no co-pay for asymptomatic people, even without medical screening. Still, there could be a hefty co-pay when employers require testing in order to return to work. Truly effective testing should be both easily accessible and free. 

We are on our way to regaining a sense of normality and a semblance of control over COVID-19. Going forward companies will want to ensure that employees remain safe and secure, whether they are working remotely or on-site. Many experts agree that testing is a viable way forward. Out-of-pocket testing, however, isn’t cheap. Prices vary wildly, ranging between $20 and $850, with an average of $127. 

Plus, it’s not easy to navigate the healthcare system during a global pandemic. A streamlined process offered as an employee benefit sends an unmistakable signal that the company cares about providing a safe and healthy environment for its workers.

Provide Real Benefits

Today, employee benefits are more important than ever. During this period of uncertainty, employees have genuine concerns regarding their physical, emotional, and financial well-being.  At the same time, they are trying to give 100 percent to the job while protecting their families and their communities. When you offer great benefits, you let employees know that you are invested in them and that they are an important part of the company’s future. The best benefits packages will pay dividends to the company, as well.


Willis Towers Watson - Rethink employee benefits in the wake of COVID-19
AICPA - Americans Favor Workplace Benefits 4 to 1 over Extra Salary: AICPA Survey

Fast Company - Employers are reconsidering workplace benefits for newly remote workers
The Guardian - New Zealand company offers employees $10 a day to cycle to work
Harvard Business Review - 8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health
National Institute on Aging - Why COVID-19 testing is the key to getting back to normal
Peterson-KFF - COVID-19 Test Prices and Payment Policy