As we approach the end of another challenging year, it’s a great time to reflect on what’s important and what’s not.
For me, I found that sitting at my desk all day or answering emails late at night was unfulfilling and unproductive, while practicing gratitude and self-care made me a better person, mom, and leader.
As I look ahead to next year, its clear to me that the changes wrought by COVID-19 have profound implications for employers and the benefits they offer. Not only are organizations operating in an uncertain period for our healthcare system, but they must also reckon with the major shifts in what workers want from their employers. Here are three trends that I’m following.
One of the most welcome shifts over the past few years is the growing cultural awareness of mental illness. Once an issue that people kept to themselves, mental illness is now part of our cultural vernacular: Everyone from Olympic athletes like Simone Biles to celebrities like Demi Lovato have opened up about burnout, depression, and the other mental health issues people face every day.
This is fundamentally a good thing. If we want to encourage people to get the help they need, then we first need to destigmatize mental health.
Still, while we’ve seen increased acceptance of mental health issues, what we haven’t seen is increased access to mental health resources. The mental health system, like the health system overall, has been extremely understaffed, challenging peoples’ efforts to find care. Therapists, overworked, have been forced to put new patients on long waiting lists or turn them away entirely.
This is one area where employers can play an important role. While we can’t solve the larger systemic access issues facing the mental health system, we can help ensure that our employees are aware of all the mental health resources available to them. These include EAP benefits such as virtual therapy services, which have opened up care to those who previously didn’t have access to it.
As the social unrest over the past year has reminded us, there is still a lot of work to be done to address the racial and social inequities in our country. Many organizations have embraced this in a significant way, looking under the hood of their recruiting and promotion efforts to ensure that their practices are equitable, and their teams are diverse.
Driven by that same desire, I believe we’ll begin to see more organizations apply similar scrutiny to their benefits strategies and operations.
One place many organizations should start is by looking at the diversity of their teams. Considering that the average Employee Benefits Manager is 45 years old and 67% are white, many teams will find that they don’t reflect that the demographics they serve.
The impact of this gap isn’t aways obvious. As with company hiring practices, a lack of diversity within benefits management teams can result in the proliferation of unintentional biases, particularly when it come to the kinds of benefits teams believe that employee want. For example, young employees are increasing valuing pet insurance over their own health insurance. And many now want their employers to offer more benefits that offer them more financial stability.
In this climate, every benefits team will need to revaluate their benefits to ensure that they’re properly serving their employees.
“Flexibility” isn’t something that employees have typically seen listed in their benefits packages, but it’s increasingly what they’re looking for. Many people, particularly young workers, are pushing back against employer demands to return to the office full-time. The genie is out of the bottle.
To understand the importance of flexibility, you have to look at the impact when workers, particularly women, don’t have it. In a recent survey, Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that 1 in 3 women have considered changing or leaving their jobs because the pandemic has made it harder for them to find work-life balance. Indeed, we’ve seen millions of women leave the workforce over the past year because of these challenges.
We’ve experienced this firsthand on our team, where more than 50% of our organization is female. During the pandemic, we’ve heard from many female employees who have put their hands up to ask for help balancing their responsibilities as employees with their responsibilities as parents.
In these situations, we’ve always responded in the same way – with empathy and with flexibility. For example, when one employee decided she needed to take an extended period off to focus on family, we told her the door would stay open when she was ready to return to work. Today, she’s back on our team.
I believe more organizations will embrace this mindset in the coming years. This shift will in part be driven by employee demands, but it will also reflect the increasing awareness that line between our professional and personal lives no longer exists – if it ever did.
Looking at all of these trends together, a trend emerges: For employers, one trait has become critical to offering employees the benefits they need to say happy and productive: empathy. In fact, 88% of employees say they are more willing to stay with an employer who they believe is empathic to their needs, according to Businessolver’s 2021 State of Workplace Empathy study. By doing so, employers can do right by their people while also getting a leg up in the ongoing war for talent.
The bottom line: As employees continue to manage the day-to-day whiplash of the COVID-19 era, their employers will need to step up their efforts to support them.