“Educating your team about the
value of your benefits package
will show how the different pieces
can work together – providing
peace of mind and coverage when
they’re needed most. And it also
helps you remain competitive in a
still-tough job market.”
It’s also an opportunity to per-
sonalize the employee’s benefit
experience. Educating staff on a
versatile benefits portfolio can
help address the changing de-
mands in peoples’ lives, touch
on the entire family’s needs, and
speak to an increasingly dynamic
and diverse workforce.
Elevating Health, Well-Being
Understandably, employees areexperiencing a great degree ofstress during the pandemic, fromconcerns about the economy andjob security, to worries over theirown health and their loved ones’well-being. Fortunately, discussions of mental health and healthcare in general are less taboo, andcompanies are increasingly looking for ways to help their teamwith this growing issue.
This was illustrated in a recent
COVID Benefits Survey conducted
by Willis Towers Watson that asked
employers about benefit plan
changes or ones they expect to
make. As Mark Hebert, its national
practice leader of voluntary ben-
efits noted, “The most common
planned changes were enhance-
ments to health care benefits (47%)
and well-being programs (45%).”
He added, “As a key component of
health care and well-being, we ex-
pect voluntary benefits demand to
Telehealth in particular saw a
huge jump in use since shelter-
in-place and social-distancing
measures started. While the accu-
racy of diagnosis is still a cause for
some concern, a rapid introduc-
tion to telehealth last spring has
led to more people likely using it
in the future. It’s no surprise then
that 62% of organizations plan to
invest more in telehealth services
One of the biggest ways tele-
health has made a difference is as
a mental health resource. In April
2020 – one month after social dis-
tancing began to take hold – a
1,000% increase in calls was regis-
tered at a federal emergency hot-
line for those experiencing emo-
tional distress. That same hotline
also received around 20,000 text
messages, and a poll from a few
months later showed that nearly
half of adults in the U.S. report a
negative effect on their mental
health due to stress about the virus.
This is an area where organi-
zations appear to be adapting
quickly, with 80% of employers
planning to invest more in men-
tal health and wellness services.
Mindfulness, stress management
and resilience are also likely to see
an increase in investment. Hebert
stated that at Willis Towers Wat-
son, they’ve seen a heightened
demand for supplemental medi-
cal insurance to protect against
adverse health conditions.
These are all pieces of a benefits
plan that could help employees
prosper this year. And what’s good
for your staff is good for the bot-
tom line, particularly as 70% of
workers said that concerns and
distractions about the virus are af-
Caregiving is another issuefacing many workers and affecting their well-being, as onein six were serving as a primarycaregiver before the pandemic.This responsibility is hitting evenharder as those who act as caregivers navigate remote work andsocial distancing, with Gen Xersand millennials affected morethan others. And the stress won’tgo away any time soon, as peoplemake decisions about schoolingfor younger children and whetherlong-term care facilities are safefor loved ones.
An Agile Approach
You’re probably somewhat familiar with the “agile” process,where a team manages a project by breaking it up into severalstages, inviting constant collaboration, continuous improvementand iteration at every point. Thisapproach, which allows for rapid delivery of high-quality andtimely solutions, has not typicallybeen employed by the benefitsindustry.
But to remain competitive in
the battle for talent and retention
today, staying current and nimble
is more important than ever. This
could mean applying agile prin-
ciples like moving to implement
benefits more quickly, being more
receptive to input from employees,
or moving to off-cycle enrollments.
In other words, adding flexibility.
This will be particularly important in the near term, as nearly halfof working people are uncertainabout what to expect in the nexttwo years. Based on what they’veexperienced in the “new normal,”workers know they will want theright benefits readily availablewhen their lives intersect with important events or are disrupted byunexpected scenarios. Here are afew ways organizations have demonstrated adaptability to theiremployees:
• Thinking up new ways to useexisting benefits, like cash forunused vacation days;
• Introducing off-cycle benefitenrollments, allowing employees to sign up mid-year insteadof limiting it to a single calendarperiod or a life event;
• Supporting part-time staff withthings like flexible workinghours or health care benefitsfor workers whose schedulesand personal commitmentshave been impacted by thepandemic;
• Understanding sensitivity towallet-share with benefit options at a variety of price points;
• Offering more to enhance the
diversity of the office and work-
ing to create an inclusive work-
• Asking, “Does the program re-
flect the needs of the staff? Does
it support a diverse, multigen-
That last point is especially
important in 2021, as the social
justice movement sweeping the
country has inspired companies
to live the brand values they pro-
mote and work to be a part of the
The Communications Clutter
Sharing relevant, timely infor-
mation should always be a pri-
ority, but its importance grows
dramatically in times of uncer-
tainty. In 2020, the nature and
frequency of communications in-
creased, both in terms of what in-
formation was delivered and how.
Communications should go outconsistently, not just after employees ask for it, anticipating employees’ concerns and using as manychannels as possible. Organizations will continue to rely on a widerange of vehicles, from the intranet,to messaging and social platforms,to videoconferencing, email andeven traditional snail mail.
As the reentry and recovery begins, communications can engageand strengthen the connectionswith employees. Clearly, sharinginformation about how the business is performing, COVID-relat-ed and other safety updates, andprogress on diversity and inclusion initiatives will continue to beimportant topics to address.
In addition, there’s an opportu-
nity to help educate employees on
their benefits options. Hebert not-
ed, “From our survey, we learned
that one of employers’ top HR
priorities in the next six months
is to communicate more on ex-
isting benefits.” He added, “We
have also seen clients focus com-
munications to employees about
features that could be especially
relevant during this challenging
Here are a few specific ben-
efits that may warrant added
messaging during these times of
• Benefits at large. Communi-
cate any substantial changes
to the program clearly and
• Health care. Foremost on employees’ minds are health plansand supplemental coverage, aswell as unique needs such asCOVID- 19 tests being covered bythe insurance plan and havingtelehealth options available.
• Retirement. As part of financialeducation, reinforce that theseaccounts are meant to serve asa long-term plan, and plan providers are there to help employees understand the effects ofmarket volatility.
• Legal assistance. This can helpemployees feel more secure indealing with day-to-day legalneeds. In addition to coveringthe basics, like wills and powers of attorney, some plans alsooffer options for identity theftprotection, caregiving adviceand tax services.
Many organizations are alreadymoving in this direction. A recentstudy from Wellable showed that87% of companies plan to spendmore money on health educationand literacy in the coming year.Financial literacy, employee assistance programs, childcare options, flexible working hours orany other valuable offering maybenefit from informational refreshers, too. Research showedthe more educated employeesare about benefits, the betterprepared they are to make gooddecisions.
Finally, communicating withempathy and understanding willgo a long way toward buildingtrust and confidence.
2020 was a year none of us arelikely to forget, but looking aheadto the future affords new opportunities we may have never evenconsidered before. As Hebertnoted, “While the unprecedentedevents have been problematic,we are inspired by the resiliencyof our clients. They’ve remainedfocused on meeting the benefitneeds of their employees. Mostimportantly, they’re looking forbenefit carriers that are in this together with them.” n
CONT. FROM PAGE 1
Y Experts believe the lessons learned in 2020will help build a better employee experiencein 2021.
Y Employees want more communication andone-on-one help with benefits and finances.
Y Survey shows 70% of workers are concernedabout distractions related to the virus affectingproductivity.