The COVID-19 pandemic had a domino effect across all facets of work and life.
Benefits consultants have been working overtime to rush to their clients' needs as they worked through lay-offs, furloughs, wage reductions, and benefits re-evaluations.
Carriers had to act fast to revise benefit packages and support all COVID-19 claims and communications.
Employers struggled with transitioning employees to working from home, keeping their businesses afloat, and how they will take care of their employees through challenging times.
After all of this, where does that leave corporate benefits?
Where we are today
The dust has begun to settle and employers are implementing reopening strategies in stages. While employers are highly focused on getting their employees back in the office or back to work safely, we are seeing some employers thinking beyond COVID-19 and actively pursuing opportunities to shake up their benefits plans and do things they’ve never done before.
With many employers realizing they can function in a work-from-home environment, corporate wellness programs will never be the same. And as we continue to think ahead, we have to consider how will coronavirus change corporate benefits strategies?
Why it matters
According to Peerfit’s CEO, Ed Buckley, Ph.D., the first thing we must consider is “will we still have workplace benefits”?
And more importantly, who will pay for them? Will there still be incentives to participate in wellness programs to earn discounts on premiums, or will employers increase compensation so these premiums become the employees’ full responsibility?
69% of private industry workers have access to health insurance, so this would obviously be a huge shakeup, but something small employers are considering.
Today, fringe benefits, like wellness programs, make up roughly 30% of an employee's total compensation.
So, what happens to wellness in this new phase?
We predict carriers will have more social responsibility than ever to help drive the engagement and communication in these benefits, especially if employees are able to choose their providers instead of being lumped into an employer plan.
Benefits effects on culture and engagement
Emma Maurer, Peerfit’s VP of Enterprise Health, reminds us that “small things can have a big impact. Whether organizations had to make layoffs, cut back benefits, or both, it’s important for employers to continue to focus on culture”. Investing in human capital does not have to be overly sophisticated, or expensive but be creative in how you make them feel appreciated, and cared for at a time when they themselves are likely feeling uncertain.
When asked how the pandemic will specifically impact corporate fitness solutions, Buckley said, "programs should never have been about fitness in the first place, they should be about engagement. The by-product is fitness.” And with a Ph.D. in Digital Behavioral Health, it’s Ed’s belief that we must engage employees at home, but in a way that still connects them.
Here at Peerfit, we’re attending live-streamed classes together, holding each other accountable to team workouts, participating in weekly wellness challenges, and hosting themed department meetings; our teams look forward to this interaction and engagement with one another.
But how do we continue to support the work-from-home population AND the essential workers that are needed in the office space? Fitness is a key factor in maintaining a healthy physical and mental space and programs need to work now more than ever to be inclusive to not only a range of demographics but also support employees’ current work environment.
How do we do that?
If employers don’t have access to wellness dollars they’re likely looking for no or low-cost options and focusing their efforts towards the mental and physical health of their employees. So how can we support our employees while helping them to create new and healthy habits from afar?
Think virtual yoga, meditation, open forum discussions with less structure. Offering your employees more opportunities to share ideas and interact with one another is going to be the best benefit for the employees and employers.
Coming from a fully remote culture, Ed believes that remote work is not a wellness benefit, it’s a culture. So, while some companies may keep their work-from-home status, Ed advises companies to “think of remote work as an expectation, not a benefit that can be given or taken away.” Employers must think about how to integrate their company goals and how to keep employees feeling connected and that they have a true benefit that was hand-picked for them.
What does that mean for you and your clients?
While some employers may be putting new benefits on hold for the next few months, employers have a real chance to dive into their benefits offerings, see what sets them apart from competitors, dive into the goals of their benefits packages, and truly make a difference by doing things they’ve never done before.
If you’re not innovating you’re dying in your business and the same goes for the evolution of benefits. The more you start to think of your employees like consumers you’re trying to engage, the more valuable your benefits package will be.