Your employer is increasingly spending money to try to keep you healthy, even if it comes at the cost of other benefits.

That's one of the key findings from the Society for Human Resource Management's annual Employee Benefits Survey in the US, released on Tuesday. The report finds that employers are spending more on wellness expenses such as health coaches, smoking cessation programs and insurance premium discounts for employees willing to submit to health-risk assessments.

Eager to control rising health-care costs, employers are putting their money where they believe they'll see real payback, says Evren Esen, director of survey programs for SHRM.

"It may take three to five years before they see a difference," Esen says. "But it shows a return."


Investments are decreasing elsewhere, however. Esen says that companies have been taking a hard look at their benefits, removing perks that are underutilised or that don't apply to large swaths of employees.

For instance, undergraduate tuition benefits, offered by 62 per cent of American employers in 2010 and 61 per cent last year, are now provided by only 54 per cent. Just 24 per cent of employers now offer long-term care insurance, down from 31 per cent last year and in 2010.

Car subsidies for business use of personal vehicles, offered to nearly half of employees in 2010 and 43 per cent last year, now are provided by only 26 per cent of employers.

"Companies had to do this anyway because of the recession," Esen says. "They've been looking at their benefits and, rather than offering everything for everyone, they're being more strategic."

In addition to showing the ways in which employers are getting stingier, SHRM's survey is an annual window into new kinds of employer generosity.

For the first time, the survey asked its sample of 510 human resources professionals whether they offered perks such as a subsidy for business use of personal cell phones (42 per cent do), free snacks and beverages (20 per cent), electric vehicle charging stations (4 per cent), or even something called "divorce insurance" (less than one per cent).

The survey also found that 20 per cent of employers have standing desks available (up from 13 per cent last year), and 54 per cent now allow employees to telecommute on an ad-hoc basis, up from 45 per cent last year.

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But those blips of benevolence may not offset the declines in many benefits that the survey showed, particularly over the past year. Some of the pullback came from fringe benefits such as on-site stress-reduction programs and executive club memberships.

Others may seem less like perks than necessities to some employees. The percentage of companies offering lactation rooms, for instance, fell back to its 2010 level (28 per cent), and the percentage paying for Internet access when employees travel also went down (to 54 per cent, from 61 per cent last year).

The US economy may be recovering, and a few companies may be using massive perks as a talent-attraction strategy, and a few companies like Google may continue using massive perks as part of their talent-attraction strategy, but many businesses aren't about to roll out the massage tables or the concierge services anytime soon.

"Companies are still cautious," Esen says. "It's not going to be like in the early 2000s, where companies were providing meals or bringing in someone to do manicures. I won't necessarily call them frivolous, but on those types of benefits, companies are holding back."

- Washington Post