I can’t believe it’s been one year since the pandemic forced us into a challenging new normal. In the early days, we realized we had to do more to help our employees, in addition to the 38 million people and families who rely on our products and services.
Like many employers, we reframed benefit programs to support our workers’ financial, emotional and physical wellbeing.
1.Mental Health Support. Now is the time to expand this important benefit and break down related stigmas. According to Unum research, 57% of workers are concerned about their mental health. Unum’s strategy includes six free sessions with a behavioral health professional. We also have specially trained employees, we call them Mental Health First Aiders, to provide support to employees who may experience a mental health issue in the workplace. Some providers allow workers to connect with a mental health professional through secure mobile applications.
2. Paid Leave. The pandemic underscored the importance of having time to meet family and personal obligations. Traditional paid time off and other forms of paid leave such as family, caregiver, bereavement, or parental leave, are more than just employee benefits. These are people investments that allow working parents and caregivers to thrive professionally and personally. It’s also a top-wanted benefit among employees across all generations.
Starting this year, Unum employees will have five consecutive days of paid leave to care for a spouse, child or parent suffering from a serious health condition. We also provides six weeks of paid parental leave for moms and dads after birth, adoption or foster placement.
3. Financial Coaching. Many families remain worried about their finances, especially during a pandemic. Those who lacked emergency savings might have had no choice but to dip into retirement savings accounts prematurely which typically triggers hefty penalties.
We also provided employees with additional resources to build greater financial resiliency. This included facilitating emergency savings funds and using portions of unpaid leave to help pay student loan debt. We also stayed vigilant supporting employee goals of growing their sources of retirement income.
4. Virtual Health Care. Virtual services aren’t new, but people and practitioners gained confidence in these solutions during the pandemic. Virtual visits allow people to safely get the care they need when they want it. And, it’s often more affordable than in-person appointments.
5. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Various programs proved their value last year helping employees research and secure local childcare options and finding alternative elder care solutions. These programs typically offer resources 24/7 to help balance work, family and personal life. I expect these essential programs will only grow.
6. Supplemental Health Benefits. Even the best health insurance won’t cover all the out-of-pocket costs for illnesses and injuries, especially with high-deductible or consumer-driven health plans. COVID-19 highlighted how many of those unexpected health care costs can take a toll on workers and their families. Supplemental coverage such as accident, hospital or critical illness insurance can help bridge financial gaps.
7. Flexible Work. A rise in remote work during the pandemic isn’t a surprise. Our latest research discovered the top non-insurance benefits workers want from their employers include flexible and remote work options.
But don’t close the office yet. Some of the best collaboration and quick decision-making happens in-person. Going forward, I think more businesses will embrace a hybrid model of flexible and in-person work, with the capability and know-how to quickly pivot to full flex work if needed.
I recommend employers optimize benefit investments and create programs to meet the diverse needs of a multigenerational workforce. Now is the time for us to lean into employee benefits.