In three short years, the relationship between Canadian employers and employees has changed dramatically as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on health, finances and overall sense of security.
While there’s a lot of talk about the world settling into a new normal in 2023, it’s not clear what that will look like. The stubborn resistance among white-collar professionals to return to the office on a regular basis is a prime example. There are many stories about prospective employees turning down offers for jobs that require too many days in the office. More broadly, real estate investors worry that if workers don’t start heading back to the office in meaningful numbers, it could be a disaster.
The employer-employee relationship is at an inflection point, one that combines work, health and economics and, as such, benefits plans can have an outsized impact in the following areas:
1. What does disability management look like when the office is at home?
Fundamentally, efforts to support plan members in their recovery should be no different whether they’re returning to a workplace or staying at the kitchen table. However, communication between employers and employees on the support provided by the plan must be even greater, including around what constitutes a return to work. Remote working arrangements can have a positive impact as claimants can return to the workplace more gradually and comfortably.
2. Is virtual health care optional?
For a range of health-care needs, virtual health care was a smashing success during the pandemic and will continue to be a worthwhile investment for plan sponsors. In particular, virtual health care makes it easier for plan members to access mental-health care services, something that too many Canadians have been hesitant to ask for help with in the past. The surge in mental-health claims that began during the pandemic is expected to persist and it will be years before the full impact of the health crisis is understood. And it won’t be long before today’s teenagers — who suffered in unique ways over the last three years — are part of the workforce.
3. Should the promotion of employee health-care programs and materials be extended to employees’ dependant family members?
By tackling this issue while the pandemic remains fresh in employees’ minds, employers will send a strong, positive signal about the kind of relationship they want to have with the people who work for them. Given what’s known about the stress that caregivers experience while balancing their home and work life, there’s a solid employee productivity argument to be made.
4. How can employers help employees achieve financial wellness?
There’s a growing recognition that an employee’s finances and health are closely linked and this connection was on full display during the pandemic. Employers can support this connection by building holistic programs that incorporate financial wellness and engaging employees with messaging about support for their financial, physical and mental well-being.
5. How can employers help young professionals balance short- and long-term savings goals?
Millennials and generation Z employees have said they’d rather focus on short-term financial priorities than save for retirement early in their career. Post-pandemic inflation — and the higher interest rates that have come with it — make this an even more important discussion. Young Canadians aren’t wrong to want to pay down student debt and save for a first home — and employers can offer tools and services that can help them achieve these goals.
6. How can employers take advantage of the multi-generational workforce?
How can employers maximize the beneficial aspects of four generations of employees amid the persistence of hybrid working arrangements? There are opportunities for employer-initiated mentoring programs and networking, both inside and outside of the organization. Networking has been under-utilized since the pandemic and employees can benefit from employer efforts to support meaningful in-person and virtual networking.
7. Are benefits plans evolving at a pace that aligns with diversity, equity and inclusion commitments?
The world has come a long way since the days when benefits coverage for same-sex partners was debated. There’s more good work to be done on this front and employers should prioritize aligning their compensation strategy with their DEI philosophy.
While the employer-employee relationship has never been static, it’s clear the last three years have raised unprecedented challenges to the status quo. This isn’t an incremental shift — it’s an unavoidable and arguably necessary reassessment of what it means to be a successful Canadian employer.