COVID-19 has impacted countless individuals and organizations around the world, leading to fundamental, lasting changes in all areas of life and work.
As far as employer/employee relationships are concerned, one concept that’s undergoing significant change due to the pandemic is the provision of benefits.
Businesses and workers alike are shifting their perspectives on the benefits that will matter most in the post-COVID world. To build strong and productive relationships with your employees, you'll need to know what they want from their jobs and how you can meet these expectations.
How COVID has impacted employee benefits
One of the many repercussions of the pandemic has been a shift to an employee-centric approach to benefits and the overall workforce experience.
Aon's 2021 UK Benefits and Trends Survey found that 79% of companies acknowledged the need to change their benefits to meet the needs of future generations. More than nine out of ten (91%) said worker expectations are changing, and 40% felt their current provisions don't cater to the demands of their existing workforce.
Almost all (98%) of the American HR leaders and executive decision makers surveyed by Care.com for its report 'The Future of Benefits' planned to newly offer or expand at least one employee benefit in response to the pandemic.
Data suggests workers are also attaching more importance to the additional provisions and perks that come with their jobs. In a survey published by Prudential Financial in September 2020, 77% of respondents said benefits are a key part of their compensation package, up from 67% a year earlier.
For employers, a key focus in the next year and beyond will be to connect with workers to build a detailed picture of their expectations and priorities when it comes to benefits.
Health and wellbeing
Given the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, it's no surprise that health and wellbeing benefits are becoming more important. A substantial majority (86%) of respondents to MetLife's US Employee Benefit Trends Study 2020 described health insurance as a "must-have". Other provisions classed as essential or highly important included:
- Dental care (69%)
- Vision coverage (41%)
- Disability cover (41%)
A Gartner survey published in June 2020 showed that two-thirds of organizations had introduced new benefits to support mental and emotional wellbeing in their workforces.
The restrictions on movement and person-to-person contact that many countries introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 led to a significant increase in remote working. This looks set to have a permanent impact on how companies function and how people do their jobs, with many employees expecting companies to offer at least a hybrid model of remote and on-site working.
PwC found that 83% of employers think the shift to remote work has been successful. However, 68% of business leaders believe the typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a strong company culture, while 55% of employees would prefer to be remote at least three days a week.
Close consultation and collaborative planning are likely to prove crucial if you want to find an approach that works for the organization and your people.
Covering remote working expenses
For those businesses that allow their employees to work remotely, it will become increasingly important to consider the need to reimburse expenses people incur while doing their jobs from home.
A report published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans showed that nearly a third (31%) of employers were reimbursing their workers for specific items such as:
- Office supplies
- Electronic devices
- Internet services
This could prove to be a key benefit for workers who find that doing their jobs from home has become a permanent fixture in their lives.
Support for caring commitments
One of the many issues that’s come to the fore during the pandemic is the importance of workers being able to meet their caring commitments. School closures left parents juggling work and childcare, while many people with elderly relatives took on additional responsibilities to look after those who were at greater risk from the virus.
There are various measures you can introduce to support employees who face the challenge of balancing work with their obligations to care for those closest to them. For example, embracing flexible working and giving people more freedom to choose where and when they work will certainly be important. In addition, some organizations will be able to provide resources and financial help for workers who have caring commitments.
Perhaps most significantly of all, employers will need to show some awareness and respect for people who have lives outside work. You could find that the trust you place in your workers to balance their professional and personal responsibilities will be repaid in the form of strong, loyal and profitable employee relationships.