While brighter days are on the horizon, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on employees and their benefits continues to be the main topic within Human Resource departments. The year 2020 was a make-it-or-break-it test for employers and benefit strategies. As a result, 2021 benefits packages are evolving to accommodate our new reality.
Some of these changes include expanding telehealth programs, enhancing mental health support, continuing to support remote work, and allowing employees a flexible work schedule.
Mental Health Care Options
All the disruptions and anxieties that have accompanied the pandemic have taken a toll on employees’ mental health. As the pandemic persists into its second year, it’s important for employers to get ahead of these issues by implementing expanded mental health programs related to depression, stress, and loss. Otherwise, we could potentially face a mental health pandemic. It is critical to provide mental health benefits that are easy for employees to access and understand. Even when access is easy, some employees might not use these services if employers don’t help reduce the stigma around being depressed, anxious, or struggling with a mental illness.
Now is a good time for employers to offer a more robust employee assistance program, especially one that offers telehealth or virtual consultations. Employees need a lot more support as they continue to face the challenges of working from home and what has become the new “norm.” Naturally, people have an easier time maintaining focus and routine when their emotional needs are managed.
Financial Health Assistance
In addition to promoting employee assistance services, employers should consider offering programs tailored to generational needs such as financial planning, saving for retirement, or paying off college loans. The financial pressures on many employees may also lead employers to present limited benefit medical plans as an option for some lower-paid workers who cannot afford the premiums or deductibles of more traditional plans.
Remote Worker Benefits
While working from home isn’t an option in every occupation, most employees are looking for increased job flexibility. Many have enjoyed some aspects of working remotely, making it likely to continue well into the future. Employers may consider increasing stipends for home office set-ups and technology enhancements. These perks may be especially needed and appreciated by those with childcare responsibilities or kids learning at home at least part of the time. Offering remote worker benefits may help attract and retain an organization’s talent bench at little cost. Without in-office perks like on-site gyms, free parking and free snacks to fund, employers can draw from this savings pool to meet the needs of their remote workforce. This includes providing on-going emotional and mental health support, offering additional telehealth and telemedicine benefits, and addressing stress management.
Flexible Work Schedules
As fully remote employees return to the workplace, most want to hold onto at least some of the flexibility they enjoyed while working from home. According to the upcoming survey by Jobstore.com, more than 60% of employees would like to continue working from home full-time even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, if given the option. Just as many would consider applying for a position that is entirely remote when looking for a new job.
Recruiters list the option to work remotely as one of the top benefits used in attracting and retaining top employee talent. This is a model expected to persist even in a post-pandemic world.
Post COVID-19 Health Issues
The COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in employees delaying regular health care, avoiding doctor appointments, or failing to get routine exams and cancer screenings. As a result, in the next few years we could potentially see higher rates of late diagnosed cancers and other diseases with poor outcomes. This is a vital issue that employers need to target by encouraging employees to follow up with annual screenings and routine care, even during COVID times.
While positive outcomes of the pandemic seem few, some of the COVID-inspired changes to the way we live and work could bring long-lasting improvements to our post-pandemic quality of life.