6 strategies to evolve your benefits for today’s flexible workforce
By Dr. Arthur “Abbie” Leibowitz | Employee Benefit News
As many organizations make the transition to the next phase of the pandemic, not everyone will return to the workplace as before, and employees may have different expectations than they did a year ago. How do these ongoing changes affect how HR should consider moving forward with their employees’ health and well-being benefits? Employees are using their benefits differently than pre-COVID, so now is the time to take a step back to review what the long-term effects may be and how benefits should be modified as a result. Consider these six strategies to help evolve employee benefits for this new era:
Heighten focus on mental health
The challenges of the past year led to an increase in stress, anxiety, depression and uncertainty among employees. As employees and their family members begin to navigate the next phase, now is an opportunity to introduce new programs or enhance existing offerings to better support mental health and well-being.
For example, integrating your Employee Assistance Program with other benefits can increase awareness and streamline access to available services, helping employees more easily connect to counseling, workshops and related resources when most needed. Add or continue to offer access to counseling via telemedicine. We’ve learned that tele-behavioral health counseling is not only effective, it improves access to mental health services at a time when these resources can be hard to find in many parts of the country.
By normalizing mental health support, employers can also contribute to reducing the stigma around seeking help. Weave information about mental health initiatives into larger campaigns aimed at helping employees take charge of their health and well-being. This can further help to reduce stigma and demonstrate the organization’s renewed emphasis on mental health.
Incorporate resources to navigate care
Due to the pandemic, many people have delayed procedures or ignored important aspects of their medical care over the past year. This can have long-lasting repercussions for their well-being, making it critical to provide tools and programs that help employees and their family members get back on track. Launching or raising awareness of services that can help employees navigate their health and benefits can provide the support necessary for them to once again take charge of their well-being.
If employees have relocated or transitioned to working remotely full-time, these changes can also impact how they utilize their benefits. They may need assistance understanding new offerings as well as which options are best for their unique situation. Offering expert-led services can also help them find new doctors closer to their home, transfer medical records, make appointments, and much more. Providing this support demonstrates to employees that their employer prioritizes their best interests and wants to ensure they have the resources necessary to successfully make this transition, whether back to the workplace or to a permanent flexible or remote schedule.
Offer flexible, personalized options
Even as workplaces reopen, many employees may continue teleworking some or all of the time. Perhaps this new flexibility has enabled them to relocate. For employers, these changes mean reviewing existing benefits programs and adapting them to meet changing needs. This may include the need to modify benefit programs to expand healthcare access for people working remotely or in different regions of the country, looking at provider networks and pharmacy benefits. Additionally, providing employees with multiple channels to access their benefits, such as mobile, online and phone, can ensure convenience and engagement wherever they are. These resources can be targeted to offer personalized alerts and information specific to each employee’s healthcare needs.
It is also important to keep these changes in mind when considering biometric screenings and employer-sponsored flu shot programs. While onsite events remain a valuable tool for helping employees take charge of their health, offering a voucher option so employees working remotely can take advantage of these services conveniently will improve participation rates.
Expand well-being resources
Virtual workshops, competitions and more have been available for some time now, but COVID-19 has prompted many program providers and employers to introduce additional tools designed to keep people connected and engaged in their health. Even as some people return to the workplace, it will be important to maintain and adapt these efforts.
For example, offering access to apps focusing on fitness or mindfulness enable employees and their family members to find the right fit for their goals. Additionally, providing opportunities for employees to connect with colleagues to explore well-being topics keeps them plugged in, whether they are at the workplace or working remotely. Of course, having the support of wellness coaches and telephonic and online coaching helps employees create personalized strategies to address their unique needs.
Maintain the telehealth expansion
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth experienced a boom like never before, both in the number of visits and the applications to utilize this option. From filling the niche for urgent care to extending into the realm of virtual primary care and specialty consultations, telehealth is meeting more needs than ever before. Across healthcare, there is recognition that many more areas of medicine lend themselves to a telehealth approach than previously realized.
While many health care providers have reopened their offices to in-person visits, there is still tremendous value in continuing to offer employees access to telehealth consultations. From addressing minor healthcare issues to scheduling regular chronic condition check-ins, telehealth provides a convenient and cost-effective option for employees and their family members to receive care. Ensure that your coverage extends to telehealth visits with employees’ providers or offer options to access care on evenings and weekends when traditional providers may not be available.
Renew emphasis on community
With so many people working remotely over the past year, it has been difficult for employees to maintain the connections with their colleagues that help build a positive company culture. Whether employees are returning to the workplace or staying virtual, there are opportunities for organizations to help strengthen or rebuild this sense of community amongst their workforce.
Creative initiatives can help maintain a sense of community within the organization. In addition to fun activities like virtual group lunches or competitions, thinking holistically and incorporating physical and mental well-being into new programs benefits both the organization and its employees. From workshops and well-being challenges to improved, multi-channel communications, taking these steps can help employees plug in from wherever they are. For employees working from home, encourage screen breaks as well as virtual or in-person meet-ups with colleagues to discuss both work and non-work related topics. Providing the means for employees to stay connected to their employer and colleagues can help reinforce company culture from wherever people are.
It is important to prioritize the benefits and programs that provide value to employees and their families in their daily lives, keeping in mind that their lives may be very different than they were two years ago. Continuing to meet employees wherever they are and providing resources that reflect company culture and instill community will make a positive difference as we all transition to what comes next.
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