(By Saad Imran)
The ongoing pandemic has disrupted the world in many different ways. To date, there are more than 26 million cases in the US, and over 400K people have passed away due to the virus. The fragile US healthcare system has also been blamed for this situation.
Due to the surge of cases, the US economy has taken a hit. Lockdowns across the country have forced many businesses to shut down. Many industries have gone through changes; some are temporary; however, many of these changes seem to be permanent changes.
During these times, the perception of employees towards job benefits has also changed. Employees no longer consider paid time off, insurance, and retirement benefits to be the only attractive features of a good employee benefits program.
Present circumstances have also encouraged employees to be more interested and aware of their job benefits.
According to a research report by Voya, 79% of the millennials want their employer to provide them with more information about their benefits options outside the open enrolment period.
Benefits such as increased support for workers who are also caregivers, enhancement in childcare support, stipends for a home office, access to telemedicine, work flexibility, and new wellness initiatives were added.
Out of all the benefits that companies started offering during COVID, the following benefits were most well-received by employees and are expected to stay permanent:
Remote Work Opportunity
Even before the pandemic started and COVID cases increased, remote work had some appeal among employees across all industries. According to a survey, 17% of US workers used to work from home five days a week before the pandemic.
After COVID cases started increasing in large numbers, lockdowns were imposed all across the US, and remote work became necessary to keep businesses running. The number of people working from home increased to 44% during this period.
Due to increased flexibility, most people working from home do not want to go back to regular working schedules once the pandemic is over. A survey found that moving forward, 72% of the workers want a hybrid remote-office model.
The biggest concern about remote working was whether employees would maintain a work-life balance and efficiently fulfill their work responsibilities.
However, a study found that working remotely did not have a negative impact on the productivity of employees.
Improved Healthcare Coverage
The public health emergency of COVID has forced companies to rethink and adjust their health insurance policies according to their employees’ changing health needs.
In the past year, the health spending of employees was far more than usual due to COVID. A report by Mercer Marsh Benefits showed that insurers expect an increase of 68% in medical claims this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on the mental health of employees. Factors like increased stress and anxiety, social isolation, financial insecurity, and job uncertainty have contributed to employees’ worsening mental health.
To help employees cope with mental health problems, employers have added facilities like access to telemedicine and virtual mental health counseling in their employee health coverage plans and have allowed flexible work hours to help those with child or elder-care responsibilities.
During the pandemic, Insurance providers also stepped up and introduced measures like waiving cost-sharing for COVID, extending cost-sharing waivers for various services, and played a significant part in the promotion of social distancing and anti-COVID measures.
A Well-Designed Wellness Program
Employee wellness programs during the pandemic can no longer include gym memberships, smoking cessation programs, yoga classes, transit support, paramedical services, and free lunches.
Due to lockdowns and social distancing measures, these activities are not possible. That is why most companies have moved these services online and have introduced more options to provide virtual mental and physical health care.
While redesigning employee wellness plans according to the present needs of employees, companies should focus on improving their employee assistance programs and should communicate effectively about utilizing them.
Some great wellness perks to add to your EAP are virtual wellness challenges, telehealth sessions with fitness coaches and dieticians, and online community events that provide engagement and socialization opportunities for employees.