With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full-swing, let's discuss planning for potential benefits changes that you can and perhaps should consider for the future. Although this may be difficult to predict perfectly as the pandemic is ongoing and the landscape is constantly shifting, these changes stem from the trends we’ve seen in the past year and the benefits requests or alterations that have been raised.
Why will and why should benefits change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
From its onset, the pandemic has completely altered the way that we work. Between social distancing guidelines and airborne concerns, the need for change was immediate.
That's why over the past year, we've seen the influx of remote work, people working in isolation rather than groups, and other methods of redesigning the physical work environment to minimize contact.
Additionally, a number of businesses are planning to make benefits changes (or already have) to cut costs, or to respond to future anticipated needs. For example, a survey of employers conducted by Mercer suggests that many employers allowed employees to make changes to their FSA contributions, switch to different medical plans, and add dependents mid-year. Other businesses have noted that they are monitoring the situation and considering future changes. And as these regulations shift, GoCo's HR support center helps you stay up-to-date with benefit related information and regulation updates.
But even without making alterations, leaders can think of new ways for employees to maximize their existing benefits - for example, allowing a percentage of accrued vacation time to be taken in cash, or working with carriers to ensure the current benefit designs are responsive to the real-time needs of people.
From an HR perspective, what changes should you consider making with the future of work in full swing?
There are a number of areas that HR can change or evaluate to support employees. Some of these options include:
- Enhancing or creating remote work benefits and incentives (e.g. reimbursement, monthly allowance or one-time payment to support the costs of internet service, ergonomic office equipment, laptops, printers, mobile phones, or utilities)
- Expanding virtual/telehealth program options
- Enhancing mental health support (by expanding employee assistance programs or additional services)
- Making changes to leave types (such as bereavement leave)
- Increasing cost-sharing for plan expenses like deductibles and copays
- Adding voluntary benefits
- Adding services around high-cost claims
- Offering financial well-being assistance (such as paycheck acceleration)
- Supporting short-term cash expenses (e.g. stipends, vouchers or reimbursement for groceries, utilities or rent)
- Delivering essential goods (such as food, prescriptions and supplies) to employees
- Offering commuting assistance (e.g. gas stipends or reimbursements)
- Developing flexible scheduling or compressed workweeks
GoCo's HRIS makes all of your HR processes from open enrollment to payroll easy and digital, which is crucial for the future of remote work.
Additionally, employers can plan to, or continue to take measures to protect employees in the physical work environment, such as, but not limited to:
- Allowing employees a choice between permanent remote work or returning to the workplace
- Staggering the return to work to allow social distancing
- Returning to work based on local infection rates and risks
- Requiring testing before returning to work
- Creating small workgroups to minimize mass interactions
- Decreasing the number of employees at the workplace to a specific daily percentage of full capacity
- Limiting in-person meetings and limiting the size of them
- Requiring masks to be worn at all times
- Increasing hand sanitation stations
- Limiting workplace visitors
- Placing regulations on elevator trip capacity and employee ride-share services
- Limiting the number of common areas, including cafeterias and break rooms
- Administering temperature screening
- Administering symptom questionnaire
- Performing screening for the presence of the virus or immunity
With GoCo, your employees are empowered and able to select their own benefits, understand the full selection and what they are entitled to, and easily view and access all benefits info in the system. It’s also easier from an HR perspective to keep track of Open Enrollment, and you have access to certified benefit advisors who can help provide more guidance.
How will these expansions support your workforce?
Employees are the backbone of the organization and by helping them feel safe and supported, you'll be enhancing their employee experience. For many of us, these are unprecedented times - people are managing grief, bereavement, and economic instability, making it difficult to focus on anything beyond survival and their basic needs.
The more an employer can do to support employees and help them meet their needs, whether the needs are financial, mental health-related, physical health-related, or otherwise - the more stable and cared for they'll feel - creating a more optimal home and work experience for everyone.