Employee Benefits in a Post-Pandemic World

Employees around the world have described 2020 as the most stressful in their careers. The coronavirus pandemic has amplified financial stress from pay cuts, furloughs, job losses, as well as mental and physical strain from COVID-19 symptoms and death of loved ones from the infection. As countries slowly begin to ease these restrictions and people get back to the job market, one thing is clear: employees have placed a higher value on workplace benefits that address these challenges.

Workplace benefits have been a crucial part of an employee’s compensation plan; however, the pandemic has highlighted its importance. More and more employees now consider their workplace benefits as an important component of their employment contract.

The pandemic has changed what workers value. Employees are now more conscious of their health as they actively explore strategies to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. With the global turn of events, workers report requiring tools to help them prevent and mitigate these COVID-19-induced challenges in the workplace. Therefore, employers A new survey from Prudential Group Insurance revealed that most workers (77%) now consider benefits program as a crucial part of their compensation, up from 67% last year. The survey also found that a higher percentage of workers consider it a big reason they would stay at a job, with many respondents revealing that they would be willing to take a chance on a new job if it offered better benefits.

Employers need to remodel their workplace benefits plans along these lines to improve workplace productivity in the post-pandemic period.

Redesign Wellness Benefits for the Remote Workforce

As the pandemic pushed the country to implement stay-at-home orders and travel bans, business leaders readapted work to survive the crisis: many employees moved from traditional office settings to remote work. However, employers are extending their work-from-home policy until next year, while others have adopted a permanent hybrid work arrangement. Consequently, HR leaders must recalibrate workplace health benefits to suit this post-pandemic workforce. 

The increasingly remote workforce will benefit more from virtual health offerings, including online fitness classes, online mindfulness exercises, and webinars that educate workers on healthy living. Employers may also consider offering virtual gym memberships and access to online medical services, including telehealth consultations, to improve engagement and boost employee health.

However,  employers need to pay more attention to preventing and managing chronic disease in the workplace. Studies found that people with chronic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease, are at high risk of COVID-19 infection and death. Consequently, workers struggling with these chronic health conditions will place more value on workplace benefits that help them manage these illnesses.

Employers may provide these workers with access to online wellness programs, including interactive sessions with health and wellness experts. Employers may also offer co-pay waivers for telehealth consultations to allow employees unrestricted access to treatments and other health services. Employers also need to invest in mobile technology, such as wearable devices and AI-driven applications, that help employees track their health conditions.

Provide More Mental Health Support

Even before the current health crisis, burnout, anxiety, and depression were significant workplace concerns; however, the coronavirus pandemic has heightened these concerns.

Job losses, COVID-19 deaths, strict public health restrictions, and the economic downturn caused by the pandemic have increased stress for over 70 percent of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). For other workers, the challenges of working from home are adding to pandemic stress. These problems have taken a toll on employees’ mental wellbeing, pushing as many as one-third of Americans to develop mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Further, these challenges have driven many to alcohol and drug abuse to cope with the tension.

As businesses reopen, business leaders need to expand health benefits to provide mental health support for their employees. Through employee assistance programs, employers can provide mental health services, including counseling and therapy. These programs should also offer mental health support for those struggling to adjust to remote work.

A survey by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions revealed that some 53 percent of 256 employers reported providing special mental health programs for their employees in the wake of the pandemic. One such is Starbucks, which offered therapy benefits for its workers in April. The company began a program that offers workers access to up to 20 therapy sessions a year with a licensed mental health provider via provider Lyra Health at no cost to the employee.

HR leaders should also provide one-on-one support to their employees in these stressful times. Have regular check-ins with your workers to see they are doing fine and are coping well with the workplace changes. Employers should also stay connected with their workers. Remote work deepens isolation for many and may exacerbate mental health problems. Encouraging regular communication and interactions between workers via frequent virtual breaks and meetings will improve mental wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. 

Rethink Financial Wellness

The year has been one of the most financially challenging years for workers. The extensive COVID-19 restrictions devastated the global economy to reach record low levels. In the US, the unemployment rate peaked at an unprecedented level not seen in over 70 years, with over 20 million people losing their jobs in the wake of the pandemic. With the government withdrawing its financial support for the unemployed, many people report falling behind on rent and going without adequate food.

With millions of workers feeling the weight of this financial downturn, the need for financial literacy in the workplace is imperative. Financial stress is linked with poor physical wellbeing, resulting in lost employee productivity and unplanned absences. This reveals that an employee’s poor financial health not only affects their wellbeing but also impacts a company’s bottom line.

One of the primary reasons for financial stress HR leaders need to address is a lack of financial literacy.

A 2019 Charles Schwab survey found that more than 70 percent of thousands of respondents said they had no written financial plan for several reasons, including not having enough time to make one or finding a financial plan too complicated to create. Following the financial downtick induced by the health crisis, workers, now more than ever, are in a strong need of tools and resources to improve their financial health and make smarter financial decisions - and they are looking to their employers to provide them with these resources.

In the Post-pandemic workplace, employers need to provide financial literacy programs using several approaches, including self-service applications, e-learning options, or access to webinars and interactive sessions with experts to provide personalized education on finances.

Some mobile apps have built-in financial tools to help people develop financial plans, create budgets, and analyze their 401(k) savings.  Larger employers may use financial vendors that provide personalized financial advice, employee assistance programs, and other educate employers on other financial-related matters.

Bottom Line

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the workplace. It has birthed a “new normal” that will see employees expecting more from their employers and demanding more benefits to shield them from the pandemic stress. Therefore, it behooves employers to pivot workplace health benefits to offer health and financial packages that will meet the critical needs of the post-COVID-19 workforce and improve employee wellbeing and productivity.