How 2020 Changed Employee Benefits Forever

mom working with child

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 sent a frenzy to employers across the country to immediately integrate a work-from-home plan and keep their employees safe. More than 18 months later, in 2021 we are still seeing employees who need more support than ever before. 

2019 benefits aren’t enough for a post-2020 world. The interconnectedness of work and life is more clear than ever before. Aspects of business benefits that were long overdue for a change are now at the forefront. Infrastructure that has been trusted for decades has now been flipped upside down. Home services, childcare, mental health support, and health monitoring are just a few areas where our benefits must keep up. 

“Employers understand they cannot stick with the benefits package and enrollment process that existed pre-pandemic,” says Leston Welsh, head of business segments at Prudential. “They are evaluating benefits to ensure they address workers’ holistic needs, changing enrollment processes to accommodate remote workers, and strengthening benefits communications to be more personalized for employees depending on their life stages.”

mom working with child

Key Benefit Changes:

To better understand the changes required in a post-2020 world, asked 500 HR leaders and C-suite decision-makers across the U.S. what benefits they plan to keep, get rid of, add, and expand as a result 2020. Here is a summer of what they found: 

Benefits to Keep or Expand: 

Almost all (98%) of the leaders surveyed plan to newly offer or expand at least one employee benefit. One of those most essential is childcare. and senior care benefits, flexibility, and mental health. Of the 500 leaders who responded, 63% said they plan to increase their company’s already existing childcare benefits. This includes access to online platforms to find better childcare, parent support, home services to make life easier, etc. companies are now understanding, “Employees cannot leave their home life at the door. They bring their worries to work, and it impacts their productivity.” When they take care of the home, they take care of the company. 

New Benefits to Add: 

Senior care is a benefit often overlooked that almost half (41%) of leaders plan to newly offer or expand. One respondent said, “Our company is realizing that senior care is just as important as childcare. Employees cannot focus if they have to tend to dependents.”

During the pandemic, 83% of adult children sought new care options for their senior loved ones and 89% were considering switching from a nursing home to in-home care. 

mom with teen

Mental health is another area of growth in the benefits world. Months of social distancing, masks, change, panic, isolation and worry have led both children and adults to unforeseen rates of stress, anxiety, and depression. According to the proportion of mental health-related emergency, visits was up more than 30% for tweens and teens in 2020.

Almost half of the leaders surveyed said they plan to increase or expand mental health benefits and 59% cited improved mental health as one of the primary outcomes of caregiving benefits. 

Overall, employers are recognizing that you can no longer separate home and work life. There is no work/life balance. It’s not 50/50, it must be 100/100. In fact, 57% of senior leaders told us that their organizations are assigning higher priority to care benefits to better support their employees in both work and life.

Old Benefits to Get Rid Of: 

Most of the respondents (89%) said they are deprioritizing things like on-site childcare, paid vacation days, commuter benefits, tuition reimbursement, and food or meals at the office. While companies that already offer these benefits care aren’t necessarily planning to close the facilities, they are working to adapt to when, where, and how people live and work to allow equal access to all of their employees.

The Future of Flexible Benefits:

Too many parents are being forced to make difficult choices. Do you go to work and risk your health or stay home and lose your job? Do you keep your position at work or add homeschool to your resume? The post-pandemic economy requires employees to do more than ever before. Between February and September 2020 alone, there were 1.2 million parents — disproportionately women — of children 5 to 17 out of the labor force. Keeping your workforce requires more flexible support and unique benefits that the world is craving. 

Flexible benefits, like Beny, provide employers the ability to individualize their benefits and support each employee based on what they need for their home and family. With Beny, employees in the office receive the exact same benefits as those who work from home. Those who need access to tutoring or childcare can receive it. Those who need help with elderly parents, or meal delivery at dinnertime can get exactly what they need. This flexibility may be the key to both building and maintaining our once-thriving economy. 

happy family

Companies Who Get It:

Several of the most successful corporations in the world have recognized the need for changed and pivoted their benefits to support their employees.

  • Fidelity launched benefits for working parents, including a childcare reimbursement and enhanced access to childcare coordinators to secure a nanny or tutor where necessary.
  • Progressive has entered into the flexible benefits marketplace to offer employer clients pet insurance benefits and more. 
  • Starbucks provides its employees with holistic mental health programs for both employees and their families. 
  • American Eagle offers one-on-one coaching from diabetes specialists for any employees who are at risk of this disease. 
  • Both NASA and FAA employees have access to specialty coaches to focus on nutrition, sleep, communication, and navigating uncertainty.

These employers are paving the way for all companies, both large and small, to cater to the needs of their employees at a time when it is needed most. 

“Childcare enhancements, home office stipends, reimbursements, telemedicine and flexibility — these were some of the top benefits we saw take center stage in 2020,” says Bhushan Sethi, global people leader at PwC. “As we approach a post-shutdown world, we can expect these to carry over. But, it’s also an opportune time for employers to take a fresh look at their rewards and benefits based on employee preference.”

The future of benefits ultimately depends on how companies respond. Today’s CEOs and HR leaders must be at the forefront of this pivot. Embracing flexible benefits to support employees in a new way is vital to surviving and thriving in 2021 and beyond.