It is a new benefits landscape. The pandemic has changed employee attitudes and subsequently, it has changed how businesses are looking at benefits for 2021 and beyond. So what are the most popular employee benefits? What’s in and what’s out? Here’s what we’re seeing at NEMR Total HR.
Even before COVID-19, insurance carriers were promoting telehealth because it’s less expensive to administer than in-person doctor visits. The pandemic has pushed telemedicine front and center, and consumers and physicians have accepted it as a viable alternative to in-person visits. Helping the cause is the rise in our connected culture, with major utilization and advances in smart phones and computer cameras. This widespread usage allows doctors to connect with patients of all ages to get a really good look at what might be going on. It’s no surprise that telemedicine usage skyrocketed by 57% since the onset of COVID-19 according to the Society for Human Resources (SHRM). For patients with chronic illnesses, the number of virtual care visits increased by 77%.
Long touted as a way to increase the speed of delivery and reduce the cost of care, Telemedicine is one of the most popular employee benefits and it is here to stay. Carriers will continue to promote it and consumers, who have realized how easy and efficient it can be, will continue to use it. Moving forward, savvy business owners should make sure that their benefit package includes some component of telehealth and promote it proactively to their employees.
When it comes to coverage for mental health treatment, The Affordable Care Act changed the rules. Before the ACA, coverage was limited to a defined number of sessions per year. Today, mental health is one of the most most popular employee benefits and considered one of 10 essential healthcare benefits.
Mental health is no longer a taboo subject. That’s been helped in part by celebrities who have acknowledged their struggles with issues such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks including Olympian Michael Phelps, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Reynolds, and Prince Harry. Commercials about prescription treatments are now commonplace. So too are campaigns from groups such as the NFL Players Association.
Even before COVID-19, a staggering number of Americans struggled with mental health disorders. In 2019, one in five Americans lived with a mental illness. The stresses of 2020, from the pandemic to social challenges, to politics and the economy have only made matters worse. Last year, those struggling with mental health problems or substance abuse was two in five—more than 130 million Americans!
To meet consumer demand, today’s carriers are increasing their networks of mental health providers. We expect that demand will continue and for carriers to promote mental health benefits. Small business owners would be smart to as well. Make sure you are looking to add this benefit (i.e. EAP) to your resource list!
Paid Time Off
For the longest time, employees could rollover as much time as they wanted from year to year. In fact, some employers allowed employees to accrue their leave over time and allowed them to use it as a retirement perk. The challenge is they earned some of that leave when they were making say, $40,000, and they took it when they were making double. Naturally, that is very costly for employers. Those days are gone, but PTO is still important.
COVID-19 has changed the scenario even more. With employees working remotely and with nowhere to go, employees are reluctant to take vacation time. This has not only created an environment where employees feel they never “get away from the job,” but employers have allowed more rollover than normal. If they haven’t allowed the rollover, they have been faced with uncomfortable conversations about how they are “taking time away” from their employees. If you haven’t begun to think about this, business owners are going to be under pressure to balance being flexible with time off, understanding the new workforce dynamic and calculating the real cost to both the employee and the bottom line.
This benefit is popular among young professionals. Can small businesses afford it? One way to do so is to reward loyalty. For example, one of our clients says, “you’ve been here for a year, we’ll give you $100/month towards your student debt.” Keep in mind this doesn’t just have to be for college. There are many instances where employers can provide great rewards for continuing education with professional certifications, skills classes, technical training and more. Be sure to explore online and local programming as the options are endless. With advances in technology and increased public-private partnerships in the higher education space, we expect this benefit to be popular indefinitely.
Employee Discount Programs
This benefit will be more in demand once the pandemic is over, and families can begin to travel and enjoy entertainment. Think: cash-strapped families who haven’t had a vacation in more than a year can save 30 – 40% on tickets on a Disneyworld vacation. Demand for these programs will surge as pent-up demand begins to enter the market. 2022 could be a huge year for these types of programs.
EAP (Employee Assistance Plans)
EAP plans offer access to qualified counselors to help employees cope with a variety of personal problems such as work stress, child or elder care, divorce and financial issues. EAPs have become more commonplace over the years and employees understand their value. The increased value of this benefit is that it typically is extended to those people who are in the employee’s immediate household.
We believe that EAPs will neither gain or lose in popularity, but their usage may increase if the employer positions them properly and educates their employees. And why wouldn’t you want your employees and their families to have help when they need it most? While we don’t anticipate employees demanding EAP, they are a nice addition to your benefits package.
Benefits That Help At Home
While bigger companies might be offering to pay for extra services like Doordash for employees who are working from home, many smaller companies are helping to pay for home internet service. Keep in mind that if you have employees working from home, they may also have other family members home as well. Most individual’s home internet packages are not equipped to handle the connectivity that we require for work… or for multiple individuals to be on at the same time. This can be one of the most popular employee benefits and is especially important now because W-2s cannot write off home office costs.
Other Employee Perks
As people return to the office or worksite, we expect to see perks like office pool tables and employee luncheons wane for a while. Gatherings are going to be tempered for some time, especially in the workplace. Employers who have seen these things improve culture and morale, will bring them back in time, but not until we all go back to a normal work environment. And honestly, who knows when that will be and what that will look like. We expect employee gyms to be the first onsite benefit to return because anything that improves employee health is good for the bottom line!