The COVID-19 pandemic caused plenty of unpredictable challenges to businesses across every industry over the past year. The impact has required many businesses to re-evaluate their employee benefits to ensure that priorities, investments, and initiatives will have the greatest positive impact on their employees and company culture. In addition to providing more time off or flexibility for parents, employers are also offering workers more access to benefits like virtual health platforms and mental health support. All employers should take the time to analyze the health and safety needs of their employees and make necessary adjustments to post-pandemic benefits as needed.
With these changes in mind, let's break down what areas companies should invest in to promote overall wellness in a post-COVID world.
Telehealth options have grown over the last decade as advisers have worked with businesses to keep healthcare costs down while still offering comprehensive healthcare plans for employees. Before COVID-19, new telehealth options were slowly popping up throughout the U.S. but still widely underused. But like everything else, the pandemic changed the current healthcare landscape in a major way and telehealth was no exception.
Throughout 2020, the use of telehealth became widespread as people looked for ways to limit their contact with individuals outside their bubble. As ongoing waves of COVID-19 continue to emerge and the population slowly becomes vaccinated, employers should continue to encourage employees to use telehealth services whenever possible.
Taking steps now to make telehealth a major part of your healthcare plan can improve convenience by bringing solutions closer to home, lead to better patient outcomes and in turn, a more efficient healthcare system. Telehealth can also increase healthcare access to employees in rural communities who may face more obstacles accessing care. Industry experts predict there will be growth in the telehealth sector for years to come as patients are choosing healthcare systems and hospitals based on their telehealth options.
Data has shown that employees who use telehealth services end up avoiding costlier alternatives, such as visits to the emergency room or shot-in-the-dark appointments with specialists. Virtual health options also lead to less time in waiting rooms, and fewer copayments and out-of-pocket expenses. For employers, this increased telehealth usage translates into less expensive claims and less time an employee is away from their work. Since 2019, First Choice Health has offered convenient virtual care to our clients and members through 98point6, the leading on-demand primary care app.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on employees' mental health and wellbeing as job demands have increased and many are struggling to strike the balance between work and home life.
Mental health strain is particularly common among Millennial and Gen Z workers, as the economic fallout has left younger generations with more debt, less stable housing and job security, and lower wage earnings than previous generations. Luckily, the stigma that has been prevalent around asking employers for help has begun to decrease, and more employees are feeling comfortable seeking and accessing support and benefits. Make sure that your employees know who to speak with at companies about support systems. Employee assistance programs, such as the one provided by First Choice Health, is a common resource that employers offer to promote healthy work environments, and provide access to behavioral health care.
To help combat the issues that can lead to decreased well-being, industries must take actionable steps in the coming year to ensure their employees are heard. This includes providing adequate training and resources that will protect employees from harassment and discrimination, boost mental health and physical exercise, and provide a generally more positive and accepting workplace culture.
In recent years, financial wellness programs have expanded across industries as employers recognize the importance of easing their employees' financial stress, especially in challenging economic times like these. These benefits bring value to both the employee and employer, going beyond the bank and playing a key role in improving employee productivity and loyalty which can impact a company's bottom line.
Financial planning programs can help employees feel more in control of their spending as the world begins to transition out of the pandemic, with a special focus on younger employees. Debt management courses aren't always part of financial wellness programs, but they can be lifesavers for employees quietly struggling to cope with mounting debt. This emotional burden can carry over into employee performance, possibly negatively impacting overall success. Additionally, having access to one-on-one advice sessions with financial professionals can help attract and retain talent.
Educational programs around financial wellness help employees reach their financial goals and achieve long-term fiscal stability. Today's workforce is looking to their employers for guidance on how to manage their money, prepare for retirement, save for college and more. Employers who make the effort to understand their workers' financial situations and strive to help them improve will be rewarded through increased morale and productivity.
Flexibility and General Safety
Even as COVID vaccination rates climb and larger gatherings are possible, many employees and prospects will likely be seeking continued flexibility surrounding where and when they can work, and many employers are already filing suit. Although variations of remote work are available depending on the industry, job function and location, the rise of remote work has impacted countless individuals and has a wide array of implications for employers and employees.
Safety has taken on a new meaning for many employees re-entering the workplace and improving cleaning and sanitary measures have taken on increased importance. This new trend suggests that employers should prioritize safety now more than ever and not assume that their pre-pandemic standards will offer enough security. Many companies have implemented, or are currently implementing, workplace safeguards against COVID contamination. Read our recent blog post about safety considerations when reopening an office.
Health and safety measures can also help promote the physical well-being of all employees by taking actions such as encouraging employees to stay home when they aren't feeling well. Employers are encouraged to consider extending emergency leave policies into next year and addressing issues like qualifying factors for emergency leave and school closures.
Your company's response to the COVID-19 crisis will have long-term effects on your current and future employees. Being transparent with employees and having an open line of communication can help leaders promptly adapt to concerns promotes an environment that fosters growth and overall employee wellness. Take time to revamp and improve your benefits packages to meet the new needs of American workers, so these offerings are not just seen as short-term perks reactive to COVID-19, but rather a reflection of the "new normal" for the American workplace. You'll be happy you did when your best employees stay put and new superstars come knocking on your door.