Which new ideas are catching on in the world of benefits management?
By: Bill Zolis
The question I get asked most often by clients and plan sponsors has got to be “Where are we going?” People want to identify the current trends in benefits management, particularly after the big shake-up to the employment world brought on the pandemic.
If I had to answer in one word, I’d say, “More.”
What we’re seeing is plan sponsors offering more types of benefits, more new ideas, more choices, more flexibility and more coverage across the board.
I’ve talked about most of these things before in this blog, but I thought it would be a good idea to pull them all together and get an idea of where we are, what people are talking about, and where we seem to be headed.
- Expansion of core benefits. One thing I find that does get overlooked when we are talking about trends in benefits management is that there is a steady growth in core benefits. Things like short- and long-term disability, drug plans, dental, vision, and life coverage are taken for granted by many of us, but they are by no means universal, and not all employers’ plans provide the same levels of coverage. However, we are seeing a steady trend of, for example, start-ups – who once offered few, if any, benefits – beginning to offer comprehensive plans from the get-go. Other employers, particularly small- to medium-size firms that once thought that could operate without comprehensive benefits plans, are finding that they must have good benefits plans to attract and retain staff.
- Flexible and personalized benefits. Employees today have diverse needs and preferences when it comes to their benefits. They want more choice and control over their benefits, and they expect their benefits to reflect their personal and professional goals. That’s why more employers are offering flexible and personalized benefits, such as health spending accounts, wellness accounts, and lifestyle accounts to respond to the needs and expectations of different age and cultural groups.
- Employee wellness. Employee wellness is a holistic concept that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of employee well-being. Wellness can affect employee health, happiness, and performance. Employers can promote employee wellness by offering benefits such as health and fitness programs, nutrition and weight management programs, smoking cessation programs, stress management programs, work-life balance programs, volunteer opportunities, or social events.
- Mental wellness The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many Canadians, with increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. Employers have a responsibility to support their employees’ mental health and well-being, not only for ethical reasons, but also for business reasons. Surveys from Manulife show that 70 percent of the cost of disability stem from mental health claims. That’s why more employers are investing in mental health support, such as employee assistance programs, online counselling, mindfulness apps, mental health training, and psychological safety initiatives.
- Virtual care and telemedicine. Another trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic is the use of virtual care and telemedicine. These are convenient and cost-effective ways for employees to access health care services from anywhere, at any time, using their smartphones or laptops. Virtual care and telemedicine can include online consultations with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, or other health professionals; online prescriptions and delivery; online booking and reminders; online health records; and online wellness programs.
- Financial wellness. Financial wellness is another aspect of employee well-being that many employers are starting to address. Financial stress can affect employees’ physical and mental health, as well as their performance and engagement at work. Employers can help their employees achieve financial wellness by providing them with financial education, guidance, tools, and resources. This can include topics such as budgeting, saving, investing, debt management, retirement planning, tax planning, and more.
- Employee recognition. Employee recognition is a simple but powerful way to show appreciation and gratitude for the contributions and achievements of employees. Employee recognition can boost employee morale, motivation, engagement, and retention. It can also foster a positive and collaborative work culture. Employee recognition can take many forms, such as verbal praise, written feedback, public recognition, awards, gifts, or bonuses. More employers are offering employee recognition programs as part of their benefits plans, or as a separate initiative.
- Learning and development. Learning and development are essential for employees to grow and thrive in their careers. They can help employees acquire new skills, knowledge, and competencies; adapt to changing work environments; pursue their professional goals; and increase their value and marketability. Employers can support their employees’ learning and development by offering benefits such as tuition reimbursement, scholarships, bursaries, online courses, certifications, mentoring programs, or coaching services.
- Environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability is another topic that is gaining more attention and importance in the business world. Employees today are more aware and concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, and they expect their employers to share their values and commitment to sustainability. Employers can demonstrate their environmental responsibility by offering benefits that encourage and reward environmentally friendly behaviours. As well, encouraging and facilitating volunteer environmental activities by both individuals and groups in the workplace can have many beneficial results.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not only social justice issues, but also business imperatives. Employers that embrace DEI can benefit from a more diverse talent pool, a more inclusive culture, a more innovative mindset, a more loyal customer base, and a better reputation. To foster DEI in their organizations, employers need to ensure that their benefits plans are inclusive and equitable for all employees. This can include offering benefits that address the specific needs and challenges of different groups.
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I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at email@example.com.
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