Benefits trump perks in a pandemic.

Novel, creative perks can make a company a fun place to work, but this past year, many of the nation’s top employers swapped the fully stocked fridges and the in-office fraps with mental health days and subscriptions to wellness apps. They responded to Covid-19 by going back to basics and making sure their employees felt truly supported during a time of crisis.

That was the main takeaway from Inc.’s annual Best Workplaces survey, which was conducted in the first quarter of 2021, in partnership with Quantum Workplace, an employee success software company. While 429 companies made Inc.‘s 2021 Best Workplaces, a list of the best U.S. companies to work for as measured by employee engagement, 422,000 employees from more than 3,000 companies in North America took part in the survey.

Here are five key benefit trends, among all companies surveyed:

1. Prioritizing mental health

With the pandemic taking its toll on millions of workers’ mental health, it should come as no surprise that most of this year’s Best Workplaces–70 percent–provide access to counselors, mental health providers, and other employee assistance programs. Just one example: Since the pandemic started, Cedar, a New York City-based health care financial engagement platform, has partnered with a clinical psychologist to offer small virtual group counseling sessions. At the San Francisco-based video game development platform Unity, both full-time and part-time employees have access to professional mental health care.

2. Scrapping the 9-to-5 model

The vast majority of Inc.’s 429 Best Workplaces recognize that enforcing strict working hours isn’t a winning strategy–especially in a pandemic. Ninety-six percent of the Best Workplaces offer their workers flexible working hours. Many companies made this policy a priority just in the past year, as increasing flexible work scheduling was one of the most frequently added benefits among the companies on the 2021 list.

Benefits by the Numbers

96 percent offer their employees flexible working hours.
70 percent provide access to counselors, mental health providers, and other employee assistance programs.
97 percent offer qualified retirement programs.
70 percent of those companies at least partially match their employees’ contributions.
58 percent offer unlimited paid time off to their employees.

3. Enhancing pet policies

Pets have been welcome additions to many of Inc.’s Best Workplaces for years, but some companies on the 2021 list took their own pet policies a step further. At New York City-based Noom, a wellness and weight-loss app, Pet Obesity Awareness Day (October 14) is a company holiday. Meanwhile, Incline Village, Nevada-based Ridgeline, an investment-management software maker, grants employees two days of paid time off when they adopt a pet. The latter company, presciently, began offering the pet-friendly policy just ahead of the pandemic.

4. Prioritizing retirement

Retirement programs have long been table stakes for Inc.’s Best Workplaces. This year was more of the same, with 97 percent of companies on the 2021 list now offering a 401(k), Simple IRA, or another qualified retirement program. Employer matching isn’t far behind, as 70 percent of those companies now match their employees’ contributions. Kirkland, Washington-based financial services company Sound Planning Group recently added an additional annual contribution based on the previous years’ earnings, similar to profit sharing.

5. Embracing unlimited PTO

More than half of this year’s Best Workplaces–58 percent–offer unlimited paid time off to their employees. San Francisco-based fraud prevention software maker Sift designated at least one workday per month as a company holiday or mental health day. “This provides time and space for employees to better manage their work/life needs and levels of burnout, in a time when they may not think to take time for themselves,” says the company.