Employers are using their employee benefits packages to address work/life challenges that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working from home. Worrying about health and finances. Caring for loved ones. Employees have been strained in many ways and employers are trying to help them cope while running a strong business as well.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges that employers are still learning how to navigate,” says Kathleen Kam Larsen, vice president and employee benefits consultant for Brown & Brown Insurance.
“This year more than ever before, employers see investments in health and well-being as an essential part of workforce strategy to help retain and recruit talent in a tough labor market. Employers are seeing that there is a direct correlation between employee well-being and overall business performance,” Larsen says.
According to Larsen, organizations are doubling down on benefits such as the following:
Remote/flexible/hybrid working schedules to help employees balance life and work
Virtual care and telehealth to provide remote access to care
Mental health resources to improve wellness
Childcare subsidies or dependent care accounts to assist caregivers
Lifestyle accounts to help meet needs like buying healthy food
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have also become more prominent as employers offer help with needs ranging from counseling to legal services to financial assistance. “It’s a one-stop-shop that will help employees when life gets tough,” Larsen says.
Having seen how helpful benefits can be when times get tough, employees are reviewing them more closely. For example, more than 25% of employees say the pandemic has encouraged them to spend more time selecting their health benefits, Larsen says.
“Employees are expecting a more personalized approach to the education and plan selection process; as well as benefit offerings that help address COVID-related challenges such as rising healthcare costs, stress, grief, and childcare,” Larsen says.
Businesses have quickly changed their benefits to keep up. “Something that’s been impressive about benefits strategies over the last year is the pace at which employers altered or added benefits. It was unprecedented and highly different than in years past, when it took companies years to make and implement benefit changes,” according to a Human Resource Executive article about ways COVID-19 has changed benefits — forever.
The Business Group on Health’s 2021 Plan Design Survey showed that large employers’ new initiatives for 2021 have included:
Implementing more virtual care solutions (53%)
Expanding access to mental health services (36%)
More focused strategy on high-cost claims (31%)
Expanding centers of excellence to include additional conditions (24%)
Implementing high-performance networks (12%)
As employee benefits continue to evolve, Larsen recommends that businesses benchmark their benefits to see how competitive they are and to follow market surveys and reports to stay on top of changes.
Employers will only get more creative with their benefits as they compete for talent and strive to improve productivity and performance in the post-COVID-19 world.