As the pandemic endures and employee needs evolve with it, the value of benefits has never been more apparent. COVID-19 has brought to light the existing gaps within the employee benefits landscape. It has forced employees to reassess their expectations and take a closer look at their finances, well-being, family and child care needs, as well as time management. And it has forced employers to revisit traditional benefits offerings to align with the new normal of work.
It’s always been the case that in order to vie for talent against larger employers, midsize companies must establish differentiating benefits programs. These offerings need to add value to employees plus help solve for the social and economic dilemmas presented by the pandemic. In this post-pandemic era, an employee is empowered by a new perspective of what the quality of their life could look like when they are given benefits that meet their lifestyle needs.
With employee focus shifting toward family and home life, family planning benefits such as fertility benefits have become increasingly popular. There has been a surge in the use of benefits such as in vitro fertilization support, egg-freezing, surrogacy, adoption and other fertility-related services. In fact, one study conducted by Cigna Evernorth revealed that 54% of women said the pandemic helped them recognize the importance of family, making them more interested in having children, and 42% said they were interested because they now have greater flexibility and time at home.
Simply put, COVID-19 has been an eye-opening event.
Employees are looking to protect their ability to build a family when circumstances improve. They may also be afraid of losing their jobs or planning a change, preferring to maximize their fertility benefits now while they still have access. When planning for the coming year, midsize employers need to consider prioritizing fertility benefits. If properly managed, these programs often pay for themselves through increases in productivity and employee engagement and result in the elimination of other health care costs.
Other family planning benefits that have been on the rise are in-home child care and caregiving. With 40% of parents changing their job because of the pandemic, employers are recognizing the tremendous impact of providing access to babysitters and caretakers. Some employers have offered benefits that help families subsidize child care because they understand that having your child home during work can affect productivity, privacy and uninterrupted meeting conversations. The organization functions better when parents can access quality child care, enabling the business to retain valuable talent who can balance work and family.
Furthermore, the pandemic has truly revealed the importance of caregiving benefits, as many employees are caring for their older relatives, children, or other family members. In fact, 40 million workers double as caregivers to family members.COVID-19 has shed light on the vulnerability to illness and death, as well as the need for employer support in these situations.
It has become incumbent upon employers to keep employees supported. For years, the emphasis has been on asking them to bring their “whole” self to work so letting them know you understand the new circumstances affecting their personal lives is paramount. A workplace culture where employees are happy will result in higher employee (and customer) satisfaction, engagement, and retention — and an organization where people want to work.
Along with the deeper focus on the family unit, the introduction of remote work has also made it incredibly important for midsize employers to accommodate flexible work schedules for employees. Undoubtedly, health and time management have become top priorities for employees and candidates during these challenging times. This means employers should adapt their policies and allow work hours to shift outside of the typical 9-5 workday, with flexibility around critical appointments, time off for personal needs, accommodating child care obligations, or even cutting the workweek short once a month to a four-day workweek.
Moreover, midsize employers should be leaning into other people-centric wellness benefits to demonstrate their commitment to employee health and well-being. This includes customizable physical and mental wellness offerings, such as subsidized gym memberships, an EAP program, or access to meditation apps and other online wellness subscriptions that employees can utilize at their convenience. It could also require providing employees with tools like online yoga, telehealth, or talk therapy to help them destress. Given the loss of life, burnout, and exhaustion caused by the pandemic, mental health will be a huge component of any benefits offering employees are considering in the coming year.
The global pandemic has changed work for organizations of all sizes. With midsize employers comprising a large segment of the labor force, they’ve been challenged to quickly shore up holes in benefits strategies while augmenting offerings with programs more suitable for a redefined workforce. Meeting employees where they live has always been important; even more so now when where they live is also where they work.
The benefits that midsize companies are willing to offer distinguish them from the competition, bringing their values to the forefront, as well as their beliefs, mission and culture. It will shape the benefits terrain for the years to come and help define the behavior of the future workplace
About the Author
Vin DiDonna is the national practice lead of Namely’s benefits consulting practice.