A significant percentage of employees view benefits as more valuable today than before COVID-19. That perception is particularly prominent among millennials, with nearly half indicating that their benefits are "more valuable" today.
The pandemic propelled wellness to the top of organisational priorities. As employees grappled with the health crises, organisations stood up to support and enable their people through a host of wellness benefits - from flexible working hours to enhanced health insurance options. The approach to wellness became multi-layered, involving various touchpoints, including performance management, employee engagement and recognition. Today, wellness is tied to the total rewards agenda, making it a top-of-the-mind issue for not just CHROs but also CXOs.
Even before the pandemic, organisations dabbled in various forms of wellbeing - including physical, social, occupational, emotional/mental, financial and spiritual. But the needs of a diverse employee demographic varied significantly. This led to highly customised and curated solutions. Remote work revamped people policies and processes to align with the 'Future of Work'. But merely updating wellbeing programs and methods is not enough. To bring about lasting change, companies need to focus on building communities and connectedness—and they need the opportunity to engage.
Flexible health benefits as a wellness boost?
The new normal of hybrid working seems here to stay, and with it, a demand for varied benefits. Post the pandemic; employees certainly see their needs in a new light, particularly relative to financial security and wellbeing. In fact, with the ongoing 'Great Resignation', organisations are looking at benefits as a critical retention and engagement tool.
Within the benefits space, we are seeing a new demand for medical and nonmedical benefits (particularly disability, leave and mental and behavioural health) that align with the overturned traditional notions of working.
According to an EY-LIMRA research, when asked how valuable are insurance benefits offered at work compared with the pre-pandemic period, employee response varied across generations. 47% of millennials (25 to 40 years) mentioned they're 'more valuable', while merely 29% of Gen Z (18 to 24 years) said they were 'more valuable'. 33% of Generation Z (41 to 56 years) thought they were 'more valuable', while 24% of Baby Boomers (57 to 75 years) noted that insurance benefits were 'more valuable'.
There's a need to make health benefits flexible so that employees can choose from a basket of offerings, as per their age, career stage, needs, motivation, aspiration. Some of the benefits, both health and non-health, that organisations should consider are:
- Enhanced and custom health and medical insurance
- Access to medical care – including telehealth and regular health check-ups based on demographic factors.
- Tailored and flexible, hybrid working arrangements and policy, including employee leave, time-off, etc.
- Avenues to improve mental and emotional health
- Celebration and recognition centred on wellness achievements
- Building communities focused on health, wellness and engagement
- Learning and development opportunities connected to wellbeing
How to curate flexible benefits to ensure adoption?
As the complexity of wellness programs rise and employers seek customised and flexible plans, it is changing the role of the Total Rewards professional.
The role of benefits vendors is evolving as organisations expect to co-create customised benefits, both health and non-health related. As a result, to ensure the adoption and effectiveness of the wellbeing programs, benefits professionals must:
- Thoroughly assess the maturity of the existing wellbeing activities and initiatives.
- Engage with employees in different phases of design and implementation.
- Leverage leading practices and balance organisational and employee priorities to integrate HR practices.
- Adopt a systemic, agile, data-driven yet humanised and forward-looking approach that considers the different aspects of its people's needs and requirements.
- Ensure senior leaders are on-board and promote the adoption of flexible benefits.
These steps demand a step away from a 'design-and-deploy' model, to a more engaging 'converse-and-create' model, with employees as critical stakeholders every step of the way.
The measure of a successful well-being program rests in the hands of an organisation's employees. It is essential to institutionalise organisational values, policies, procedures, tools and systems to align with the wellbeing agenda.
While HR and rewards professionals will continue to be the custodians of wellbeing, it is up to the managers to drive the utilisation by communicating the opportunities within the organisation. Managers should be trained and attuned to cultivating a culture of wellness. To ensure this happens, rewards teams must provide managers with the right resources and guidance to make wellbeing a cornerstone of the employees' experience. This is possible only with sustained interest and investment of the organisations' leadership, while HR teams provide visibility into employee utilisation and outcome realisation. After all, people are an organisations' most critical asset, and their health, safety and wellbeing are the pillars upon which all organisations operate.