Change is on everyone’s mind. The last year has been a wakeup call for many employees and employers alike, and we will see this reflected as each set their benefits plans for the year ahead.
Employers must balance costs with an understanding that employees have become much more attuned to their needs and aren’t timid or passive about communicating them.
As companies adapt and adjust to fit the needs of their workforce, we have compiled a high-level list of the industry’s predictions for potential changes in employee benefits within the next year.
Shining a Light on Mental Health
The last year was a reminder that mental health is a huge component of employee safety and wellbeing. With the concepts “routine” and “normal” essentially being thrown out the window, the need for mental health services has seen a huge spike and will continue to be even more essential.
Open enrollment for 2021 is already seeing a strong resurgence of interest in programs that include behavioral health counseling. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise with our sudden shift to working fully remote, disruption of our daily routines, kids learning at home and burnout as the boundaries between work and life become increasingly blurred. And all of this accompanied by elevated levels of stress amid worries about job security and layoffs concern about family members and loved ones.
What IPMG’s employee benefits services division has experienced is that many employers recognize the increased need to support their employees with health plans that incorporate more mental health options. Not only will this save on healthcare costs (untreated mental health conditions cost the economy $200 billion every year), but it also creates a more accepting, positive work environment, ultimately improving employees’ overall job satisfaction.
Rethinking Paid Sick Leave and PTO
With the passing of Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave, or expanded family and medical leave, for specified reasons related to COVID-19, state legislatures across the country are re-evaluating their paid sick leave mandates.
For a few years, the trend has been to combine sick days and vacation days into one PTO bank, which feels like an improvement over separate accruals since an employee is more empowered because they do not have to justify each day off and can take their days as needed for their particular circumstances. However, the inadvertent result has been that many employees choose to come in to work when sick rather than “waste” a vacation day, which increases coworker exposure to illness, which is something we have learned through IPMG’s absence management unit.
With employee safety now at increased risk during the pandemic, some employers have reversed course and are back to differentiating sick days from PTO policies in an effort to encourage employees to stay home when they aren’t feeling well. As an alternative approach, unlimited PTO policies are also becoming more prevalent, which eliminates caps and carryover.
Regardless of what approach is best for your company and employees, be sure to tread carefully if you are planning to make changes. Many people are already stressed by the tumultuous times and don't want to deal with any more twists and turns.
Airing on the Side of Over-Communication
Clear, consistent communication is key to a successful benefits program, especially when you consider that many employees have admitted that they don’t necessarily understand all the benefits or programs their company offers.
While in the past employees may have spent very little time evaluating their benefits, we expect this time to increase substantially. Employers should be at the ready to address the influx of questions and concerns around how your organization’s policy may impact the unique situations employees are currently facing, even if you aren’t planning on making any big benefit changes, as considerations for benefit selections may be different.
Employer communications about benefits and open enrollment should be handled with compassion and empathy to make sure employees feel cared for as you help them think through their circumstances. This means not only communicating resources and deadlines, but also an explanation regarding how benefits decisions were made: what was considered and that you understand how it will affect employees.
By taking the right steps to communicate them to employees and help them understand the impact, your organization can go a long way toward giving employees peace of mind and helping them stay calm through whatever comes next.
Upping the Ante on Childcare and Family Benefits
While progress has been made for parents at work in many areas, childcare is still lagging, including those benefits for family planning and new parents. According to early 2020 research by Clutch, only six percent of companies offer employees childcare benefits, despite the fact that both parents are employed in 63 percent of American families with children.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating pressures on working or expectant parents, family-driven benefits will continue to grow as part of the larger trend of expanding work-life balance policies to address family responsibilities, parenting and other familial concerns.
To alleviate stress at home so parents can be more focused and productive at work, many employers have begun providing virtual activities to support eLearning for children in school, while still others are providing on-site childcare for those working parents who must be on-site themselves.
Similarly, once viewed as a luxury or perk, family-forming benefits help address challenges from fertility to maternity to back-to-work to support employees in a more holistic way, helping to foster an inclusive culture among remote teams that supports all pursuits of parenthood.
Continuing to Work from Home
More workers will continue working from home on a permanent basis than before the COVID-19 pandemic. While seeing the viability of a remote workforce and the expectation of having significantly more remote workers in the future, many have yet to develop policies to encourage working from home.
If you’re looking for a knowledgeable partner to help you navigate the changing world of employee benefits, IPMG is ready to help. Learn more about our employee benefits services and our absence management services here.