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Refreshing Insights

It’s that time of year again, when you examine your current employee benefits and consider your options for increasing value—preferably without increasing cost. The struggle is real, and this year it’s likely even more challenging to make these decisions amidst a global pandemic.

This year the focus, not surprisingly, is on tools to help employees stay mentally and emotionally fit while social distancing for their physical health.

More than a few recent surveys have shown that employers are expanding employee benefits for virtual (tele) healthcare and increasing access to programs that will 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 retention and recruiting purposes.

We have compiled a list of the most common trends that we see businesses across all industries adapting for 2021. Companies are customizing and scaling these ideas to fit the needs of their workforces across the country.

No. 1 Telehealth and Virtual Care

Nearly all employers will offer telehealth services for minor and acute services, according to the Business Group on Health survey, while 91 percent of employers say they will also offer virtual appointments for mental health.

Telehealth options have been expanding for years with both healthcare providers and health insurance carriers offering consumers the option to seek non-emergency care for minor illnesses from the comfort of their own homes.

Stay-at-home orders, masking mandates and social distancing have had a profound impact on people seeking in-person medical treatment. Some telehealth platforms saw activity jump by more than 41 percent between February and March of this year.

No. 2 Mental Health Programs

Since April, U.S. citizens have been reporting increases in anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many employers recognize the increased need to support their employees during this time and are looking for health plans that incorporate more mental health benefits.

Open enrollment for 2021 is seeing a strong resurgence of interest in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), especially those that include behavioral health counseling.

More than 69 percent of the employers surveyed by the Business Group on Health say they will provide access to online mental health resources, including apps, videos and articles.

No. 3 Paid Sick Leave and PTO

Before the pandemic, some state and local governments already had their own paid sick leave mandates in place. With the passing of Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), however, more state legislatures across the country are re-evaluating proposals for paid sick leave. In Wisconsin there is currently no state law that requires employers to provide paid leave, but there are several bills that have been introduced in previous years and it is likely they will see a comeback.

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.

For years, the trend has been to do away with separate sick days and vacation days and combine the hours into one PTO bank. The unintended result has been that many employees choose to report to work sick rather than “waste” a vacation day, increasing the spread of the common cold and flu in the workplace.

Now, with worker safety at increased risk during the pandemic, some employers have reverted to distinguishing sick days from PTO, encouraging employees to stay home when they are ill.

Some employers are also looking more closely at offering unlimited PTO to avoid caps and carryover and eliminate payouts, while other companies are allowing employees to donate their excess PTO to fellow employees who need additional time off.

No. 4 Childcare Assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for working parents. Many childcare centers have closed, and many public schools have opted for virtual attendance.

This leaves working parents with some difficult decisions about 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 providing onsite daycare in the workplace, while others are providing virtual activities to keep kids busy at home while mom and dad are working remotely. Another trend taking hold is for employers to provide tutoring sessions, in-person and online, so parents have someone to help the kids study and finish homework.

No. 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.

Many employers are providing optional benefits like additional life or disability insurance as well as offering employees resources and education to reduce stress and enhance financial well-being. Some programs include educational sessions on common topics like reducing debt, while others include complimentary meetings with financial advisors. A few companies have opted to solve their PTO conundrum and financial stress in one fell swoop by allowing employees to directly apply a PTO payout to student loan debt.

What’s Next?

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue, and the final outcome remains unknown. We do know, however, that employers who take a proactive approach to helping employees through this time will be in a better position to move forward. Check out our guide to building a better benefits package and invest in a future workforce that is not only more loyal, but also healthy and ready for work.

Build a Better Benefits Package: An Employer's Guide to Offering Competitive Benefits

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.