Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, group insurance was more important than ever, she said, noting more than a third of benefits plan members valued their workplace plans more than public health care and a majority (71 per cent) stayed with their employers because of them. At the same time, she added, the public health crisis exposed gaps in coverage and areas where plan enhancements could go a long way to ensuring members were able to receive the support they needed to weather the storm.
Read: 2021 BPS coverage: Employers looking to rebuild post-pandemic should dig into their benefits toolbox
Amid delays in health care, closures of physicians’ offices and limited access to paramedical supports due to pandemic-fuelled restrictions, many plan sponsors quickly added virtual health care to their benefits offerings to provide members with easier access to medical professionals, noted Alexander. “Pre-pandemic, only about one in 10 Canadians . . . used [virtual health care], but [as of] March 2022, about one in two Canadians now [use] it and feel that’s something really important.”
Additionally, as social isolation and loss of work-life balance as a result of the shift to remote working began taking a toll on some employees’ mental health, the typical $500 amount allotted to cover mental-health practitioners prior to the pandemic was revealed to be woefully inadequate, she said. Indeed, many plan sponsors increased the dollar amount to between $2,000 and $3,000.
Read: 2021 BPS coverage: New disruptors awaiting employers in the post-pandemic workplace
Employers also increased the dollar amount in their health-care spending and wellness accounts. As well, many expanded the products and services covered under their wellness accounts to provide added value, flexibility and to foster positive employee behaviours such as virtual gym memberships, dance classes and childcare, said Alexander.
Financial well-being is also now top of mind for employees, she added, advising employers to have a robust benefits plan that includes financial education and training. In today’s changing workplace, employers must also focus on employees’ environmental and social well-being. Plan sponsors with employees working from home rushed to support them by providing the proper equipment required to do their jobs effectively and safely, such as providing coverage for home office equipment through their wellness accounts.
Employers also realized two weeks of paid time off wasn’t nearly enough to stave off employee burnout and some moved to provide four to six weeks and even added more wellness, mental-health or sick days, said Alexander. Others are testing out a four-day workweek and finding great success, she added, noting that flexibility was likely the No. 1 wellness support factored into the pandemic workplace. Most importantly, she advised employers to regularly poll their employees to find out what benefits they value and what supports they still need to endure this prolonged health crisis.
Read: How can employers turn the ‘Great Resignation’ tide?
In this tight labour market, employers have an opportunity to be bold with their benefits plan design to attract and retain top talent, she noted. Whether it’s implementing a work-from-anywhere policy, creating outdoor shared spaces, providing a company cottage employees can book, an employer-sponsored emergency savings account or a menopause policy, Alexander said employers that think outside of the box will stand out among their competition.
Read more coverage from the 2022 Benefits & Pension Summit.