A sampling of companies that boosted or rolled out new programs this year.

With a hot job market—the national unemployment rate is currently at 3.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—many employers have set their sights on an important way to recruit and retain talent: employee benefits.

Scores of employers this year announced changes to their benefits programs—from rolling out student loan benefits, tuition perks and other financial wellness offerings to improving paid leave policies and mental health coverage—both to help themselves in the quest for talent and to better help their employees.

From Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks to Goldman Sachs, here’s a look at a handful of employers that made changes to their employee benefits packages this year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

The insurer said it’s adding a student loan repayment perk for its employees through administrator Bright Horizons. The employer will contribute $75 per month toward employee student loans, as well as provide workers one-on-one financial coaching and guidance on repayment strategies.

Read more here.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle announced a slew of benefit changes for its employees this year. First, the employer announced it will cover 100% of tuition costs upfront for 75 business and technology degrees through Guild Education, a Denver-based company that administers tuition benefits for employers.

It also said it will provide access to mental healthcare and financial wellness for more than 80,000 employees in 2020 through employee assistance programs and enhanced benefits offerings. Beginning Jan. 1, all Chipotle associates and their family members will be able to receive personalized mental health assistance through a partnership with healthcare company Health Advocate, regardless of whether they are enrolled in the company’s medical plan. That support will be delivered at any time of day through in-person, phone or virtual visits with a licensed counselor. Chipotle also is partnering with Ayco, a financial counseling platform owned by Goldman Sachs, to provide employees resources including an assessment, checklist and accompanying education to assist with financial planning.

Read more here.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced a new paid parental leave program for its employees, providing six workweeks of paid leave per year for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a new child. The benefit can be taken all at once or intermittently. It will be available to both mothers and fathers immediately upon hiring at the FDIC.

Read more here.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs now offers 20 weeks of paid leave to all parents, regardless of gender or caregiver status, the bank says. It made the change to its policy this fall.

Read more here.

The Hartford

The Hartford announced this summer it is rolling out a student loan repayment benefit for employees. The Connecticut-based insurance company says nearly 17,000 U.S.-based employees will be eligible to receive a lifetime total of $10,000 toward their student loan debt starting next year. The Hartford will contribute money directly to loan providers each month.

The repayment program, through student loan benefit provider Gradifi, will go into effect in 2020. It will add onto the student loan counseling and refinancing benefit the company added with Gradifi in July.

“We want to help employees be prepared for their financial future,” says Karen Howard, the Hartford’s assistant vice president of total benefits. “It can be hard to think about the future and other savings opportunities like retirement when someone is worried about their student debt.”

Read more here.

Intel

Intel said this month that it is expanding paid leave benefits for U.S. employees to “better support employees during life’s critical moments.” It is expanding leave for new parents to 12 weeks from eight weeks; providing up to eight weeks of paid leave for employees to care for a seriously ill family member; and expanding bereavement leave to two weeks. It also is rolling out a new parent reintegration program, which will allow new parents to work a part-time schedule—up to four weeks—with full-time pay. Those benefits will kick in Jan. 1.

Read more here.

J.M. Smucker Co.

The J.M. Smucker Co. said it is enhancing leave and company-provided vacation benefits for its 7,000 workers. The Orrville, Ohio-based food manufacturer, known for its jam, ice cream toppings and other products, is introducing 12 weeks of paid leave for all employees following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. It’s also expanding its vacation time from two weeks to three weeks for employees with less than five years of tenure and introducing a pet bereavement leave—one day of time off following the death of a pet.

The benefits go into effect Jan. 1. The benefits “provide employees the opportunity to take the time they need to fully experience life’s important milestones and moments,” says Jill Penrose, senior vice president of human resources and corporate communications at Smucker’s.

Read more here.

Lidl

Grocery retailer Lidl US said this fall that it is adding medical coverage for part-time employees. Beginning Jan. 1, Lidl will provide medical benefits for all employees in more than 70 stores, regardless of the number of hours they work per week. Roughly 1,200 employees working part-time—about 30% of the company’s workforce—will be eligible to buy into medical coverage through the company.

Lidl’s head of HR, Eoin Byrne, says that behind the move is a desire to give employees peace of mind. The company also plans to use the new benefit as an attraction and retention tool.

“Giving them access to healthcare coverage will help them succeed and be at their best,” he says. “It eliminates a major stressor and will naturally help to attract and retain great people.”

Read more here.

Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall

The not-for-profit community hospital, with campuses in Newburgh and Cornwall, N.Y., rolled out its own unique student loan benefit this year. Through provider Tuition.io, Montefiore allows employees to transfer unused paid time off toward repayment of their student debt. Eligible MSLC employees can convert 30 to 75 hours of unused PTO into payment against student debt, which will be distributed semi-annually, with a maximum $5,000 annual contribution.

Read more here.

Northern Rivers Family of Services

Northern Rivers Family of Services, a New York-based nonprofit, announced a new program to help its employees pay off student loan debt faster and to better manage their finances. As of November, the employer now contributes a minimum of $35 every month toward eligible employees’ student loans, and is budgeting $150,000 annually for the benefit. The program, which is in partnership with provider IonTuition, will aim to allow employees to repay their debt faster and save money on interest.

The number of employees with debt was the employer’s catalyst for launching the benefit, says Linda Daley, chief human resources officer for Northern Rivers. About 65% of its 1,400 employees hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and many are saddled with student loan debt. “The goal for many of our employees is to chip away at as much of their student debt as possible, and every little bit from Northern Rivers helps,” she says.

Read more here.

Pacific Seafood

The Clackamas, Oregon-based food company partnered with provider Zovio—an education company that works with other employers including Delta Airlines and Novetta—to deliver a full-tuition assistance program. Employees are now able to receive free tuition to obtain associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees at Ashford University, an accredited online university. The employer covers fees, books and graduation expenses as well; costs are directly billed to Pacific Seafood.

Read more here.

Pilot Flying J

Pilot Flying J, a travel-center operator with roughly 28,000 employees, now offers full- and part-time employees with six weeks of fully paid parental leave. Employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months to be eligible for the benefit, the company says. The benefit kicked in Sept. 1.

Read more here.

Starbucks

This fall, the coffee giant expanded its fertility benefits to reimburse employees for surrogacy, as well as reimbursing for intrauterine insemination expenses that are not covered by insurance. This benefit will reimburse employees up to $10,000 per qualifying event, up to a lifetime maximum of $30,000.

Starbucks also increased coverage: Under the new plan, lifetime maximums for fertility benefits under all Starbucks medical plans increased from $15,000 to $25,000 for fertility services, and from $5,000 to $10,000 for prescription drugs.

The benefit will be available to all eligible full- and part-time employees.

Read more here.

Trilogy Health Services

Though Trilogy, a senior-care provider, has been offering a student loan benefit to employees since 2016, this year it decided to go further in its efforts to help employees—and decrease administrative burdens—by partnering with provider Tuition.io. For its roughly 15,000 employees, the employer added a suite of expanded education-assistance benefits, including for student loan repayment, scholarships for employees and their dependents, and access to financial wellness tools.

It also increased its contribution: Previously, the company paid $250 per quarter to employees toward the principal on their loans. Now, eligible employees at Trilogy receive monthly contributions of $100 to help pay down the principal on their student loans, with no lifetime maximum. The program is available to full-time and part-time employees who have been working for at least six months.

Read more here.

The Washington Post

The Washington Post said this fall that it is significantly expanding paid leave benefits for its employees. Beginning Jan. 1, all new parents employed at the newspaper will be eligible to receive 20 weeks of paid time off following the birth or adoption of a child. That’s up from the four weeks of paid time off the company previously gave parents who worked there for at least one year.

Read more here.

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Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]

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