We work with our clients to regularly assess their employee benefits package to ensure they not only have a package that will attract and retain top talent, but also mitigate risks and lower costs. In 2021, the focus, not surprisingly, is on tools to help employees stay mentally and emotionally fit while social distancing.

In our experience, and as seen in many recent surveys, employers are expanding employee benefits for virtual (tele) healthcare and increasing access to programs that help improve and maintain employees’ mental health and well-being.

When weighing your options, it can be helpful to know what other companies are choosing as benefit priorities. Not every trend will fit your needs, but you want to ensure you remain competitive in your market for both employee retention and recruiting purposes.

Let’s take a look at key trends:

1. Telehealth and Virtual Care

Nearly all employers are offering telehealth services for minor and acute services and virtual appointments for mental health. The Covid pandemic had a profound impact on people seeking in-person medical treatment. Telehealth options were slowly expanding for years, but now they are part of standard treatment options with both healthcare providers and health insurance carriers. The option to seek non-emergency care for minor illnesses from the comfort of their own homes has already become the norm.

2. Mental Health Programs

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been reporting increases in anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many employers recognized the increased need to support their employees during this time and continue to choose health plans that incorporate more mental health benefits. There is a strong resurgence of interest in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), especially those that include behavioral health counseling. Many employers are providing access to online mental health resources, including apps, videos and articles.

3. Paid Sick Leave and PTO

Before the pandemic, offering increased flexible PTO was trending. State and local governments were putting their own paid sick leave mandates in place. With the passing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), more state legislatures across the country are re-evaluating proposals for paid sick leave.

Nine states and the District of Columbia offer – or will offer- paid family medical leave. In conjunction with paid sick leave, many employers are looking at their accrual paid time off (PTO) policies and rethinking caps, payouts, and separate sick days.

4. Childcare Assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for working parents. Many childcare centers and public schools are still closed for in-person sessions. Also, many employees will continue to work from home for the longterm. This leaves working parents still juggling work and childcare. Employers are upping the ante on childcare benefits to help alleviate stress at home so parents can be more focused and productive at work.

Some employers are shifting work schedules to accommodate specific child needs. Other employers are even providing virtual activities to keep kids busy at home while mom and dad are working remotely. Another trend taking hold is for employers to offer tutoring sessions, in-person and online, so parents have someone to help the kids study and finish homework.

5. Financial Health and Well-Being

The pandemic has people worried about their finances—employment status, threats to income and long-term savings plans, mounting debt, stock market volatility, impacts on 401(k) retirement plans—and this concern is raising stress levels. See our blog post from last month talking about financial wellness programs.

What’s Next?

The coronavirus pandemic effects continue, and we see positive new ways that employees and employers are benefiting from a cultural shift in handling benefits.

However, we do know that employers who take a proactive approach to help employees through this time will be in a better position to move forward. Your benefits package is an investment in a future workforce that is strong, loyal and productive.

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