As businesses begin to adjust to a post-pandemic world, it’s gotten even more difficult to find and keep employees. New trends in well-being benefits may help give you the edge you need. As seen at the recent HR Executive Health and Benefits Conference in Las Vegas, as well as in other events across the country, employer wellness programs are beginning to offer a variety of benefits that appeal to a diverse range of employees and potential employees.
The trends in employer-sponsored well-being programs include an increase in mental health offerings, financial wellness options, and an even larger role of technology in benefits. Additionally, employers are seeing options for providing family and caregiving benefits, and health benefits that focus on getting back to care after the pandemic.
Mental health: no longer a “nice to have”
When it comes to employer-sponsored well-being programs, mental health is at the forefront of most discussions in the current market. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on mental health, and according to a survey conducted by the Conference Board, over 40% of employees said their mental health suffered during the pandemic, and their burnout increased.1 Additionally, approximately 60% of employees said that the integration of their personal and work lives has increased, which also increases mental health concerns.1
A study from Business Group on Health and Fidelity showed that a majority of employers (91%) plan to make mental health part of their return-to-office strategy.1 Fortunately for employers, in the current market, mental health benefit options abound. The challenge is determining the right fit for your employee population and your budget.
When it comes to mental health, it’s important to remember that poor mental health doesn’t exist in a bubble. Mental and physical health are inextricably linked, and it’s unwise to address one without addressing the other. Poor mental health can lead to physical health issues, and some mental health conditions can even lead to increased risk of chronic disease, sleep disorders, and other health problems.2
In addition to mental health care, be sure your wellness program also includes a measurable health component that helps employees identify chronic disease and other health risks through clinical data, such as a biometric screening program.
Financial wellness is an emerging benefit option
In the past, offering a 401K plan, and even 401K contribution matching, was the extent of the financial benefits offered by employers. However, with the way the pandemic has impacted many people financially, there are increasing options available to help employees with their financial health.
According to a survey of HR professionals, there has been an increase in use of more nontraditional financial benefits since the pandemic began.3 These benefits include financial planning, financial coaching, and emergency savings funds. Additionally, employers can offer financial benefits related to education, such as tuition reimbursement, 529 plans, and employer-provided student loan repayment.3
Women are more likely than men (35% vs 23%, respectively) to say their financial health has suffered due to the pandemic,3 so these financial benefits could be especially important to some female employees and applicants. In addition, these benefits could also help to close the “gender gap in financial well-being,” which is caused by wage inequality, family and caregiving responsibilities that fall disproportionately to women, longer time spent in retirement due to longer life expectancy, and other factors.3
There are many options for financial wellness in the marketplace, so as with any other benefit, it’s best to know your population to determine which, if any, of these would appeal to your current and potential employees. As with mental health benefits, it’s also important to consider overall health, as financial well-being can have an impact on other aspects of healthcare, including stress, mental health, and access to care.
The role of technology in benefits
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the availability of benefits technology.4 While it can be overwhelming to sift through all the technology and platforms in the market, it may be beneficial to think about how technology can help employees understand their benefits and how to use them.
Many employees say they don’t understand the benefits their employer offers, but technology can play a role in helping to increase understanding.5 Technology that helps streamline and simplify the benefits offered can help employees be more engaged in the programs their employer offers. The helpful programs available don’t do any good if employees don’t know how to access and use them.5
Another way technology is changing the benefits landscape is by increasing access to healthcare. Virtual care options can help employers close the gaps in care for employees who may struggle to get routine healthcare outside their homes due to the pandemic, their work schedule, or availability in their area. With the help of technology, employees can request materials to complete a collection for a biometric screening at home and can also connect with a healthcare professional for virtual follow-up care and next steps.
Expanded benefits to support families and caregivers
Many workers are juggling home life and caregiving responsibilities in addition to their workload, and often their mental health, as well as their productivity, is impacted. During the pandemic, many of these stresses were exacerbated and the needs of caregivers shifted.6 There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to caregiving benefits, because caregiving doesn’t look the same in every family. For some, an on-site childcare option would be helpful, but for a childless person caring for an older relative, they need something completely different.
As with other benefits, it’s important to understand what your employees, as well as those you are recruiting, find most valuable. Be flexible; think “outside of the box.” For example, family benefits can include greater scheduling flexibility, providing the technology for remote work, or offering more work-from-home days.6
Encouraging employees get back to care
To optimize your investment in health benefits, now is the time to encourage employees to use those benefits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals postponed or canceled routine screenings and other preventive care designed to detect cancer and other serious conditions at earlier stages.7 Not all conditions cause early symptoms, so often screening and evaluation are the only way to detect them early when treatment is more effective and less expensive.
Because of lapses in screening during the pandemic, it is possible that more Americans have undiagnosed cancers and other health conditions. According to Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director and head of Health Trends research for Quest Diagnostics, “early screening, diagnosis, and treatment for cancer is critical to achieving the most favorable outcomes. Due to gaps in care throughout the pandemic, we can expect a future wave of patients presenting with cancer at more advanced stages of disease.”7
As an employer, you can help employees see the value of routine screening and preventive care and make these resources available to them. Offering a comprehensive biometric screening program to employees can help them gain awareness of their baseline health and potential health risks. Encouraging them to discuss their screening results with a doctor will also help empower them to take charge of their health. Additionally, employers can embrace virtual care as a way to address gaps in care and ensure that the virtual care offered is both easy and cost-effective for employees.8
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many workers’ attitudes about working conditions and benefits. Employers who pay attention to these changes will be the ones who attract and keep the best workers. Offerings once considered perks have become must-haves, and there are many new benefit offerings aligned with workers’ new priorities.
Mental health is undoubtedly becoming one of the most important considerations for employers, but be sure to consider it as one part of supporting employee health as a whole. Additionally, financial well-being benefits, technology platforms, and family and caregiving support are ways to think outside the box to offer employees support they value. Finally, understand that employees may have postponed healthcare visits during the pandemic, and urge them to return to care.