Looking Back At 20 Years of Employee Benefits Offerings In The U.S.


It has been 20 years since SHRM first launched its annual employee benefits survey, at that time entitled “Innovative Benefits Survey.” The sheer number of benefits that were asked about in 1996 compared with today have grown immensely – a mere 60 benefits in 1996 compared with the 344 benefits covered in the 2016 Employee Benefits Research Report (click here for the full report). When we compare changes in benefits over the past 20 years we see that the core benefits offered by employers has remained relatively stable. For example, health care coverage: 90% of companies offered coverage through either a PPO or HMO in 1996 and when we analyzed the numbers of organizations that offered either a PPO or HMO in 2016 it was also 90%. In addition, the following benefits have remained stable:

  • Prescription drug coverage
  • Employer assistance programs
  • Medical flexible spending accounts
  • Long term care insurance

What we did see a change in is the different types of health care coverage which expand beyond the traditional HMO and PPO plans. Now we’ve got dental, vision, mental health, chiropractic insurance as well as HRAs, HSAs and other consumer directed health plans.

And while the way we asked paid leave has changed over the years, so the numbers are not directly comparable, in 1996, 90% of organizations had paid vacation compared with 97% now.

Retirement preparation planning has stayed the same as well with 45% offering this benefit in 1996 which is the same as now.

Select types of wellness programs are also offered at the same rate – smoking cessation programs and weight loss programs.

Areas where we do see changes in the directly COMPARABLE benefits from 1996 and 2016 are:

  • Telecommuting of any type increased from 20% in 1996 to 60% in 2016.
  • Wellness resources and information from 54% to 72%
  • Increased focus in the area of professional development is marked by an increase in company paid professional memberships (65% to 88%) and PD opportunities (75% to 86%).

While we didn’t asked about retirement savings in the 1996 survey, we did start asking about that one year later in 1997. At that time 68% of organizations offered a defined contribution plan compared with 90% today. And defined benefit pension plans have dropped from 49% in 1997 to 25% today.

What are your thoughts on the findings and why do you think the sheer number of benefits offered to employees has increased over the past 20 years? 



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: