How employers and employees embrace an evolving reality
by Kristina WelkeMs. Welke is the Head of Product for New York Life Group Benefit Solutions (NYL GBS) where she oversees the development of products, capabilities, and experiences that drive differentiation for employers of all sizes. Visit www.newyorklife.com/.
As we stand at the intersection of rapid workplace evolution and greater employee expectations, traditional benefits approaches are also evolving. The modern workforce is diverse, spanning up to five generations, and with this diversity comes a variety of needs and expectations. Today, we see employees gravitating towards flexible and personalized benefits packages, catering to their individual preferences and varying needs. Employers who succeed in providing these benefits have an opportunity to increase employee satisfaction and position their companies as attractive places to work.
As we look toward the coming year, we see four key emerging trends that are reshaping the way we think about employee benefits, which will provide employers and benefit providers an opportunity to embrace change and create a workplace that not only thrives but also continues to care for the holistic wellbeing of its most valuable asset – its people.
The Ripple Effects Of Mental Health Challenges
While the conversation around individual mental health has intensified over recent years, there is a growing recognition of the ripple effect mental health challenges can have on entire family units and caregivers. Research by New York Life Group Benefit Solutions shines a light on this often-overlooked aspect, revealing that a significant 48% of workers have assisted a loved one grappling with mental health challenges in the past year. Moreover, the survey underscores the collateral impact, with 80% of workers surveyed acknowledging a toll on their own mental wellbeing because of their caregiving roles.
Employers are increasingly acknowledging this multifaceted challenge and are recognizing that family mental health can have an impact on their employees who are serving as caregivers. Employers can support family mental health by doing a comprehensive review and enhancement of mental health benefits, fostering flexibility in work arrangements to accommodate the complex dynamics of caregiving, and elevating awareness of available resources to empower employees with information and support. The integration of targeted management training programs is another key step, equipping managers with the skills and knowledge to help employees navigate mental health challenges effectively and reduce the stigma that is often attached to discussing mental health at work. Furthermore, the establishment of organizational advocates for mental wellbeing can help foster a culture of empathy, support, and understanding, ensuring that employees do not navigate these waters in isolation.
The impact of addressing mental health can help create a more stable, content, and productive workforce, as employees are buoyed by more fulsome support mechanisms at work. As the narrative around mental health continues to evolve, the inclusion of family mental health within the employee benefits spectrum is not just a trend but a fundamental shift towards a more inclusive, compassionate, and comprehensive view of employee wellbeing.
Creating Inclusive Workplaces
Employers will continue to focus on creating inclusive workplaces as part of ongoing commitments to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts. As part of these efforts and in the wake of the remote and hybrid work revolution, spurred in part by the global pandemic, organizations have had the opportunity to diversify their talent pools. This evolution in the working model has facilitated significant strides in recruiting, hiring, accommodating, and retaining a variety of employees – including a growing number of people with disabilities. A testament to this progress, individuals with disabilities aged 25-54 saw a 3.5% increase in employment in the second quarter of 2022 compared to the pre-pandemic era.
One concrete way benefits providers are helping employers address the needs of employees with disabilities is by streamlining the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations process by coordinating with employers ahead of time to create an offering of pre-planned pathways for accommodations. These processes, once put into place, allow for swift decision-making and expedited accommodations while minimizing paperwork and allowing HR and Benefits Managers to concentrate on handling more complex cases.
Offering workplace accommodations for people with disabilities is not only a compliance imperative but offers tangible business advantages. In one study, a staggering 85% of employers acknowledged the retention of valued employees as a direct outcome of offering ADA accommodations. Beyond retention, more than half (53%) reported a surge in productivity, underscoring the myriad benefits of an inclusive work environment for people with disabilities.
Smart Connectivity: Enhancing the Digital Employee Experience
In today’s workplace, there is an expected standard for digital integration in every aspect of the business, including employee benefits. Employees now expect efficient and user-friendly digital experiences. Benefits providers are responding by enhancing their digital connectivity to meet these expectations.
A significant aspect of this enhancement is the integration with HR technology platforms and other third-party services. This entails more than simply combining different data sets but ensuring that the integration is done in a way that simplifies day-to-day tasks. Benefits providers are actively working to improve this integrated experience for both employers and employees. The focus is on deepening data integration and sharing, which aids in reducing the administrative effort required by employers and enables easier access to benefits resources and simplified enrollment for all employees.
Data sharing also allows greater connection between benefits. For example, a medical claim submission could trigger automation for a disability claim. This would allow benefits providers to proactively reach out with value-added services based on a claim submission, with the goal of helping that employee get back to optimal health and return to work sooner.
Integrated connectivity is more than a tech upgrade—it improves the user experience. It provides employers with a streamlined and intuitive interface to easily access and manage employee benefits, leading to greater efficiency and overall cost reduction.
A Holistic Approach to Employee Wellbeing
As the employee benefits landscape evolves, there has been a noticeable pivot from solely focusing on traditional medical insurance coverage to embracing holistic employee wellbeing. As many of these wellbeing programs are still drastically underutilized, it is critical that employers continue to promote them to ensure employees are getting the most out of their benefit offerings.
Today, we see many employees grappling with escalating out-of-pocket healthcare expenses not covered by their insurance. In response, voluntary and supplemental health benefits have re-emerged as a solution, bridging the gap between primary insurance and unexpected out-of-pocket medical costs. This includes tangential health expenses such as pet boarding during a hospital stay and mental health services. These benefits not only provide employees with a financial safety net but also cover healthcare-related costs that may not typically be covered by traditional health insurance.
Supporting employee wellbeing also includes promoting overall financial wellness. It goes beyond having enough resources to meet immediate needs and addresses the stress associated with managing finances and preparing for unexpected expenses. Financial wellness tools and programs are essential to help employees build confidence in their financial stability and prepare for the future.
And finally, employers are focusing on a comprehensive support system that includes not only health and financial wellness but also emphasizes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). These three pillars are crucial to creating a supportive and positive work environment where employee wellbeing is a tangible and achievable outcome, not just an aspirational goal.
These emerging trends in employee benefits are a response to the evolving needs of a diverse workforce and a changing workplace. They underscore a shift towards holistic wellbeing, inclusivity, and adaptability in a post-pandemic world. The future of work will be significantly influenced by employers and benefits providers working together to create environments where comprehensive support and wellness are integral to the employee experience. This ensures that workplaces are not just productive and resilient, but also spaces where wellbeing is cultivated for all.