(by Andres Rojas)
As 2021 gets nearer, more Americans are either working from home, working part-time, or in-between jobs than ever.
Indeed, the pandemic has brought sweeping changes to the workforce. So much, in fact, that the pre-COVID-19 labor market as we knew is unlikely to return soon, if ever.
But how will employees stay afloat until the economy recovers? After all, the need for social distancing has strained the employee benefits system to the limits.
Typically, a company’s employee benefits include things like health coverage, disability insurance, paid time off, life insurance, and retirement benefits. But with 14.8 million COVID-19 cases in the country and 710,612 in NYS, as of December 07, Coronavirus has forced HR executives to patch up their workers’ safety net with mixed results.
Working from home hasn’t put a cap on the price of health benefits
Needless to say, the massive spike in COVID-19 cases that started mid-October has put more workers and family members on a hospital bed.
Yet, COVID isn’t the only factor driving up the costs of health insurance. In fact, the new “work-from-home” reality has also increased health claims related to musculoskeletal problems and mental health issues.
Older workers are increasingly tapping into their retirement benefits
The pandemic has had a terrible effect on workers of all ages. However, many workers close to retiring have needed to tap into their retirement benefits to cover unexpected expenses.
Those who haven’t touched their retirement benefits haven’t escaped the repercussions either.
As employers institute pay cuts, many workers have seen their ability to pay for their retirement benefits plummet.
In the worst cases, companies have even cut back or completely eliminated their contributions to their employees’ 401(k) retirement savings.
Even COVID survivors have troubles getting long-term disability insurance
With COVID-19 cases ramping up lately, claims for long-term disability are on the rise. Although the price of disability insurance is stabilized at 1-3% of a person’s yearly salary, many coronavirus survivors are getting by with short-term disability insurance.
Indeed, many survivors are struggling with the long-term respiratory and neurological after-effects of coronavirus. However, filing a successful claim is made harder by the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases and the difficulty of digitizing the process amidst the pandemic.
The looming unemployment crisis will make benefits more important than ever
More than 13 million Americans are living off unemployment benefits. Many of them benefitted from the passing of the CARES Act and the additional 13 weeks of benefits it gave them.
However, along with other state-based relief programs, this law will lapse by the end of December. And if this isn’t addressed soon, millions of unemployed workers could be left without enough funds to cover their health and living expenses through the winter.
To make things worse, experts predict a deadly winter outbreak of COVID-19 cases which could bring as many as 511,373 deaths by late February.
Employee benefits have changed since COVID
The pandemic has changed benefits as we knew them. Normally, a company’s voluntary benefits include dental care, disability insurance, and retirement benefits – among others.
However, as working from home becomes the norm, companies are dropping things like dental or unemployment coverage from their benefits plans.
Working from home is now seen as normal
Not every change is bad, though. Indeed, 2021 will bring many positive benefits. For example, the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards working from home.
Before COVID, employers believed the office model was the only one that could guarantee productivity. Today, employers can use a range of tech tools to track their employees’ activities down to the last keystroke.
This means that new mothers, disabled workers, single parents, and other traditionally marginalized segments will find plenty of opportunities in 2021 to integrate into the workforce remotely.
Employers are investing more in stress and mental health assistance
With the pandemic disrupting life as we knew it, the American Psychological Association has warned about a coming mental health crisis. Indeed, COVID has led to a massive increase in stress, depression, and anxiety among the American people.
To counter the effects of isolation and fear, 53% of companies’ employee benefits now include mental health programs. Now, thanks to the rise of remote care, employees with mental health coverage can receive online therapy from the safety of their living rooms.
Employee benefits increasingly extend to family members
Both employers and insurance carriers understand how worried workers are about their families’ welfare. Whether it’s young children, parents, or even a pet, everybody has loved ones they care about.
To ease their worries and protect their productivity, many companies are coming up with creative ways to support their employees. For example, the rise of pet insurance recognizes how important pets are for our mental health.
Other companies, on the other hand, have focused on offering educational benefits that allow their employees’ children to receive at-home online tutoring.
Paid sick leave is bringing families together in times of hardship
But perhaps the most important development has been the passing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Thanks to this act, covered employees who need to take care of a sick family member can get two weeks of paid sick leave. In addition to that, Employees with children who have been affected by COVID in some way can apply for an additional ten weeks of paid leave.
Are you doing your best to attract talent?
The pandemic has turned our world upside down. Indeed, our daily routines, place of work, and even employee benefits have changed since COVID hit the US.
But besides the havoc it has caused, COVID has also pushed companies to upgrade their benefits programs. Those employers who are pioneering these changes will have a crucial advantage in 2021 when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
So it seems that in the future, at least when it comes to HR, the quarantine might just prove to be a blessing in disguise.