Bye-Bye Benefits

It's true that generous employer perks are among the many casualties of the unemployment crisis. But on the bright side, most of us won't miss the cushier ones. After all, how many out there got to take advantage of expense-account first-class travel or company-aided adoptions?

A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that perks such as paid family leave, education reimbursement and stock options have been on the decline and probably won't make it back to 2007 levels any time soon.

Still, some of the more popular benefits that have been cut in the last couple of years, such as 401(k) matching contributions, are gradually being restored, albeit at reduced rates. For example, some companies are matching employees' 401(k) deposits but at half the rate they used to.

When the labor market gets tight and companies have to compete for the best employees, they use generous benefits to do so. But with unemployment at 9.7% and holding, employers can offer far less and still have their pick of top candidates.

Benefits on the Endangered Species List:

Education Reimbursement and Training: The number of companies offering them is shrinking, and those that do are cutting back. For example, employers that would have paid almost 100% of the cost to get a masters degree are capping reimbursements at a mere $2,500.

Adoption Assistance: Surprisingly, 20% of all companies that offered extended benefits once covered at least some adoption expenses. That number is now 10%. It's one of the first benefits to go and will be one of the last to come back–if it ever does.

Lavish Parties: Many people don't consider this a benefit, but a good holiday party or summer picnic can be a nice perk. It's estimated that 87% of all businesses have cut down on their holiday parties, and 15% have gotten rid of them altogether.

First or Business Class Travel: With the difference between first class and coach amounting to thousands of dollars, many companies that routinely sent executives by first class are cutting them back to business class, while those who flew business class are roughing it back in coach.

Flexible or Remote Work Arrangements: Advancements in technology and telecommuting lead many to believe that more companies are allowing employees to work from home, but it's the employees themselves who are rejecting this benefit. They worry about losing their jobs if they're not in plain sight of their supervisors every day. Also, with a reduction in staffs, offices are no longer overflowing as they once were.

There is one group of perks that's on the rise: Those that incur low or no costs for employers, like group discounts at Target or Dell or group auto, home and life insurance programs. Hey, if they can't pay you more, at least they can help you save money.

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