Should Benefits Plans Change with a Work from Home Culture?

When people finished work on Friday, March 13th in 2020, many thought we would be going back into a normal work environment soon. That wasn’t the case. But many people weren’t properly set up to work from home and found whatever flat surface they could use to set up a laptop or desktop computer. Kitchen counters doubled as makeshift desks, dining room tables became conference and virtual call stations, and home office furniture sales skyrocketed.

Aside from these not being ergonomically correct workspaces, homes also felt a little tighter with stay-at-home orders keeping spouses, children, and other family members in close quarters constantly. Stress increased as the physical and proverbial space between the working world and homelife shrank.

The New Virtual Workspace 

As stay-at-home orders continued, employers and employees alike had to accept that remote work and virtual workspaces would be here to stay, at least for a little longer. While many employers were previously interested in exploring virtual work environments, it became a necessity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit – whether we were ready for remote working or not.

With that sudden thrust into change, processes needed to be altered, new technology would need to be introduced for many, and factors that play into daily stress (such as decreased socialization, parents and single parents working while having children home, and caring for elderly parents to name a few examples). All of this had an affect on the demand for certain types of benefits, and the decline of others.

Dealing with Hybrid Work Environments

For those who are managing and working in hybrid work environments – some employees are going into offices or warehouses, while others are working from home – there is a sense of disparity being created. An ‘Us vs. Them’ feeling. Each of these groups (the remote workers and on-site workers) are interested in different types of benefits as a direct result of the type of work that they’re doing in the environment they work in. While some on-site workers are happy with traditional benefits packages, some remote workers find allowances for home office furniture and supplements for internet, energy, and phone plan costs more appealing. We are seeing a greater emergence of different benefits for different groups within the company, or “groups within a group.”

Some employers are even considering a reduction in wages as their employees adjust to working from home and are spending less on their commute, new “office clothes”, automobile maintenance, and insurance expenses over time.

Changing Claim Patterns and Potential Risks 

It is undeniable that there has been a change in claim patterns because of the pandemic and the shift to work-from-home culture, and we anticipate that this will continue in the future. For a few months at the outset of this pandemic, prescription drug claims held consistently, but ancillary health claims decreased substantially. With less people visiting chiropractors, massage therapists, and other services, there simply were less claims being made.

However, with all of this change – decreased in-person socialization, and fear caused by the pandemic – one in five Canadians were found to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder since the pandemic began, and 68% reported that their mental health has worsened according to Statistics Canada. Mental health benefits have certainly been sought after by work-from-home employees, on-site workers, and their families, and the demand for these benefits has increased dramatically. We are now examining the advantages that could be possible for employees and their employers if mental health benefits existed in their own silos, apart from other paramedical benefits.

Similarly, the demand for telehealth services increased substantially (a jaw dropping 5,600%!), and demand for EAP and wellness programs increased as well.

Benefits That Matter for Remote Employees 

So, with all this unprecedented change, which benefits matter for remote employees? Not to confuse anyone, but: they all do!

The COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of instability for so many of us, but among all the uncertainty, health benefits were one of the things that many employers could keep constant for their employees. Many companies kept benefits unchanged to keep some normalcy, security, and comfort for employees. Though, that in itself is a topic of much scrutiny – not on the part of the employers necessarily, but on the part of the benefits providers.

Why Now Is a Great Time for These Discussions

In this time of rapid change, it is crucial to have future-focused conversations with your clients and prospects, and understand the big changes in the plans that businesses are making for their futures. Some are embracing a work-from-home, remote operation while other businesses are eager for their employees to return to the office, and some are finding a middle ground with a hybrid approach. While this may seem like a big enough change, the implications that this may have on health benefits packages may be substantial as well.

Both you and your client will benefit when you ask them this question: What does your future workplace and your future employee look like?

Will their employees be contractors, full-time, or a mix of both? Will they be working remotely, or on-site, or both? It’s important to understand the answers that your clients give to these questions so you can advise them with the right benefits plans and packages that will provide their employees and themselves alike with peace of mind.

You may think that the midst of a pandemic is not the best time to be talking with clients about future plans they’re making, but it is really a fantastic time to have these discussions. Many businesses are not hearing from their advisors right now. But if you do not have these conversations with you clients and prospects, someone else will. Reaching out to them and showing them that you hold them top of mind shows them that you care, and it demonstrates the value that you provide as their advisor.

 

Contact The Benefits Trust today to learn more about how you can approach these value rich conversations with you’re your clients, and about how you can incorporate more mental health supports into their benefits plans.

Robert Crowder
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