As 2021 comes to a close, so may be the window to use your employer benefits. This past year has seen some employers enhance their offerings to support employees with the new challenges brought on by the pandemic, but some workers may be unaware of the extras they’re leaving on the table and they’re running out of time to use them.
“I have clients who realize they have $600 in benefits to use up, so they cram in five appointments in December,” said Kristin Riley, a registered massage therapist (RMT), who runs a private practice in Vancouver.
But along with more dollars allocated towards traditional benefits like seeing an RMT or dietician, the category of wellness benefits has expanded to even include self-care items like virtual art classes, e-books, and dumbbells.
“New ways to access virtual care will not have had the uptick that it did if it weren’t for the pandemic,” said Ingrid Gailler, vice president of benefits consulting of national accounts with Hub International, in a phone interview.
“What’s also been interesting is the uptick with men,” she said. “Virtual [counselling] is easier for certain sectors of the population. The stigma is essentially gone.”
She said the challenge now is integrating the various supports on one platform. Hub International services firms with at least 100 employees across a variety of sectors and implemented a “care concierge” within the last year at the request of its clients. Employees can access a “live care advocate” who directs them to employee assistance programs, telemedicine, or fitness apps.
Gailler says a tight labour market has forced her clients and prospects to be more creative in how they offer benefits.
“Competition is fierce, so employers have to focus on how to differentiate themselves,” she said.
That includes companies like 3M Canada that’s had a comprehensive wellness program since 2014. Winner of the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards, 3M’s program includes rewarding employees for taking preventative action towards their health. Employees can get points for watching a video or reading infographics (on topics like patience and resilience) that convert into dollars that can be spent towards purchasing vitamins, gym memberships, or running shoes.
Popular among 3M’s 1,900 employees across the country is the Calm meditation app, according to Jackie McLennan, benefits specialist with 3M Canada. Employees can sign up for free, and access relaxation activities from music to stories and sleeping tips.
“We were ahead of the game even before the pandemic hit,” McLennan said in a phone interview. “We’ve stayed competitive.”
The focus on non-monetary benefits as way to keep employees happy and mentally healthy amid uncertain times is reflected in an RBC Insurance poll conducted in October, whereby 68 per cent of Canadians said they would take a job with good benefits over another job that pays more.
“We’re preparing for the likelihood that there will be more of this trend,” said Julie Gaudry, head of group benefits at RBC Insurance, in a phone interview. It’s seen nearly half of its new long-term disability claims for young Canadians (aged 18-35) related to mental health this year, an important consideration for employers with younger staff making up a growing proportion of their workforce.
According to Canada Life and Health Insurance Association data, Canadian insurers paid out $420 million in psychology claims to support mental health in 2020 – up 24 per cent from 2019.
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