Five COVID-era Benefits Worth Keeping
The COVID era was, in most regards, challenging and costly for employers and employees. The price paid in physical and mental duress cannot be overstated. Employees and employers have banded together to make work workable. Many people look back with great appreciation for new and updated employee benefits that helped them get through.
From modest enhancements to comprehensive programs, employer-sponsored benefits shifted to meet most of the needs of employees in the time of rampant COVID-19 to the present day. These benefits also proved to be an aid in recruitment, retention, and well-being. Forward-thinking organizations who may be considering their current benefits may want to think carefully before making reductions or terminating programs. On the contrary, many employee benefits, born out of the past three years of trial, may be worth considering as a permanent part of a human resources toolkit. Here are five:
Provide personal protective equipment (PPE).
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to protect workers from serious workplace injuries, illnesses, and infections. As COVID infections were ravaging workforces, businesses across the U.S. and around the world, rose to the occasion by providing PPE to workers are no cost. Though COVID infections are manageable, they have not disappeared. As it was during the height of COVID, personnel returning to the workplace should have easy access to masks, gloves, face shields, and personal hand sanitizer. Employees should always be instructed on how to effectively use protective equipment. Having PPE available to employees, even if they don’t use it, is a reassurance that their health is taken seriously.
Give access to personal health screenings.
According to the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC), nearly 1 in 5 American adults who had COVID-19 still suffer adverse side effects, otherwise known as long COVID-19, leading to a secondary health crisis. Over the past three years, many employers instituted visual examinations, temperature checks and personal health questionnaires to help curb COVID-19 infections. Medical lab testing also proved helpful for employers seeking to aid employees as they monitor their health. Recently, the large medical lab company, Quest Diagnostics announced a new panel of testing for liver inflammation, abnormal thyroid function, vitamin deficiency and kidney infection related to long-COVID. These routine and advanced health screenings can identify COVID outbreaks and help protect overall employee health.
Expand telehealth benefits to include mental health services.
According to a survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), 83% of U.S. organizations offered telehealth benefits prior to the pandemic. An additional 13% implemented telehealth services because of the pandemic. Telehealth is especially helpful to help treat mental health conditions such as depression, which is taking a devastating toll on U.S. adults during COVID-19. Provider services can be utilized by employee populations staying home as well as those returning to work. For example, Catapult Health offers at-home testing combined with face-to-face video consultations with licensed healthcare. HR managers should consider including this service as a benefit for both employees and their dependents, who may be similarly impacted.
Expand at-home childcare support options.
Childcare became a major work-family issue during the pandemic as parents were forced to take on full-time parenting and full-time work at home. At the same time, many childcare centers had to permanently close as business dried up. Childcare workers left the profession in droves and found other permanent jobs. Now as many employees transition back to work, they are having even more difficulty finding high quality childcare. Employers should do more to help. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 11% of workers have access to employer-provided childcare. Without intervention, childcare will be a persistent recruitment, retention and job satisfaction problem. Not every employer can afford onsite childcare or pay full freight for at-home caregivers. However, programs such as backup child care for children up to 5 years old can be a cost-effective perk and a major boost for families.
Don’t forget about training and knowledge enhancement.
According to a report from insurance firm Unum, employers working from home also increased the war for talent. When people can work anywhere, their choice of employer is virtually unlimited. To compete, employers will need to revisit their benefit offerings now and in the future. Already, business schools including Pepperdine Graziadio Business School are seeing increased enrollment and launching new programs to aid those who seek foundational business skills in anticipation for the future workplace. Employers who offer workforce training, especially MBA, executive education, and credential programs, give employees a reason to stay and benefit the organization’s bottom line.
While these employee benefits can help employers develop a safe and positive workplace, the benefits landscape is dynamic and ever-changing. Many HR managers are closely following public policies that could alter the benefits landscape. For example, President Joseph Biden’s budget proposal provides $9 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, an increase of nearly $1 billion, to expand access to quality, affordable child care for families. The Budget also expands a tax credit to encourage businesses to provide childcare benefits to their employees. Many state and local governments also provide employers and local residents with programs that close gaps in employee benefits.
It is also important for HR managers to remember the emotional stressors of employees and their families. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, pandemic may have worsened children’s mental health or exacerbated existing mental health issues among children. The pandemic caused disruptions in routines and social isolation for children, which can be associated with anxiety and depression. Marriages/ relationships have suffered and an employee may be still reeling. There are single people who may have relocated for a new job at the beginning of the pandemic and remain unsure of their new surroundings. Additionally, many people were hired during the pandemic and these new hires may be coming into the workplace in need of attentive integration. Having a process for dealing with these psychosocial issues will enable employees to be more effective, empowered, and engaged upon returning to the workplace. What employer wouldn’t want that?!
Many employers are seeking workplace continuity and many millions of employees are returning to more days and longer workweeks. Examining employee benefits and the human element of managing a workforce can help employers today and ensure employers are well-prepared to retain and recruit top talent for the road ahead.
Gary Mangiofico, PhD, is an Executive Professor of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. He is a former vice president for Johnson & Johnson Health Care Services; COO and senior vice president for Pathmakers, an integrated behavioral health practice management group; senior vice president for Apria Healthcare Group; and chief executive officer for CPC Alhambra Hospital.