Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. As we reach nearly a year since the pandemic started, many of us wonder if we will ever get back to “normal.” The workplace and employee benefits arguably have experienced some of the most significant changes. Employers scrambled throughout 2020 to assess and implement numerous regulatory changes, migrate to a virtual/remote workforce and address virus-related absenteeism, among other disruptions.
As employers confront an uncertain 2021, hoping to pivot attention to return-to-work strategies, there will likely be a significant emphasis on employee benefits. A silver lining of the pandemic may be a renewed focus on financial well-being, virtual health care, and mental/emotional health. Employers who recognize the importance of these trends and give serious attention to implementing benefits to address evolving employee workplace needs will gain a competitive recruiting and retention advantage. At Johnson Financial Group, we anticipate several employee benefits trends in 2021 (and beyond), including:
Although trending favorably before the pandemic, the utilization of telehealth and virtual visits dramatically increased because of it. The reluctant population was forced to adapt and may even wonder why they did not try it sooner.
Employers can expect the proliferation of virtual care providers and services to continue in 2021. In addition to technological improvements, we expect to see expanded accessibility for mental/emotional health care and specialty needs, a transition to more virtual visits for chronic condition management, and personal fitness apps and devices to become a vital source of data for providers to monitor patients.
We expect innovation in the virtual care space to move fast. Stakeholders will need to stay mindful of the quality of care, privacy, and appropriateness challenges.
As with virtual care, financial wellness was already on the radar of many employers. The burgeoning student debt problem is well documented. The same is true for those nearing retirement who have concerns preparing for the next chapter in their lives. Numerous national surveys have exposed an alarming level of pandemic-induced financial stress on employees across the spectrum of their careers. Recognizing the correlation between financial stress and employee performance, employers may need to find new ways to integrate financial wellness into existing benefit plans. In-person and virtual education and communication platforms, student loan reimbursement programs, debt management counseling, and estate planning support are among the strategies employers will take a closer look at in 2021.
The pandemic was a catalyst for spikes in stress, anxiety, despair, and many other serious issues around the country. Mental and emotional health problems like these also led to a crisis level of new and relapsing addiction and alcoholism problems Again, employers should recognize the crucial role they play in assisting their employees and their family members with the support they need.
A rejuvenated endorsement and promotion of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can be expected. Employers and their EAP providers will enhance access to online resources too.
Stigmas historically have played a part in individuals’ reluctance to come forward to seek help with mental/behavioral health and alcohol/substance abuse. Now more than ever, employers will do whatever they can to ease these concerns and promote the health plan benefits associated with treatment. A workplace that demonstrates a commitment to employee support will be better positioned than others in the battle to attract and retain top talent.
Worksite/Voluntary Benefit Offerings
Keeping with the theme of flexibility and addressing financial worries, employers will review current worksite program offerings to consider redesign while exploring new offerings. Many employers have been agnostic regarding employee-paid (voluntary) benefits. When offered, these benefits are often left to the employees to understand and assess. The pandemic exposed flaws with the portfolio offered and the need for more education around how these benefits work and what they cover.
In 2020 employees found that insurance protection is practical for many aspects of our everyday life – another eye-opening impact of the pandemic. Employees were asking themselves questions like - “Do I have enough life insurance?” “Would pet insurance have helped cover expenses that I am now financing?” Or, they might question why they enrolled in a critical illness plan that excluded COVID-19 claims.
Cognizant employers will learn from these experiences and evaluate their worksite portfolio through a new lens this year. Contact a Johnson Financial Group advisor today to learn more about these and other trends and strategies.