To say things have changed since I wrote my last editorial is a massive understatement.
Of course, the early rumblings of the coronavirus pandemic were already underway in the early weeks of 2020, but they were still very far removed from Canada’s reality.
At the time of writing these words in mid-April, worldwide coronavirus cases had topped two million. It was estimated the number of employees working at home or part time had increased by 415 per cent. Employers were laying off staff and taking several other measures to ensure they remained in business. And global stock markets saw some of the swiftest and steepest losses in history.
Without being too inflammatory or dramatic, the world we know has changed completely — and we have no timeline or map to follow to find our way back. Instead, everyone is stuck in limbo, adjusting to the new normal.
For Benefits Canada’s readers, the workplace they were already tirelessly working to manage, support and grow has essentially imploded. Every component of their jobs pre-coronavirus is now covered with the fingerprints of this new culprit.
We’re all employees and employers. And now, we’re all struggling with what the new reality means for us. Some of us are working at home, juggling our daily tasks alongside childcare and looking after sick family members, as well as increasingly longer lists of household chores, since our constant presence in our homes is making it nearly impossible to stay on top of everything.
Some of us are still considered essential workers — those heroes among us, who are keeping the grocery stories stocked, running public transportation, ensuring the streets are safe and, most importantly, leaving the comfort of home every day to stand on the front lines of our hospitals and fight this beast.
And some of us have been laid off or forced to take pay cuts due to struggling businesses, or work in an industry that isn’t required at the moment, which has shifted those typically productive days to nothing.
We all fall into one of these categories — and probably several others that I’m missing. It’s important to remember that. No one is unaffected. We’re all in this together. And we’ll come out on the other side, whatever that looks like.
Right now, we need guidance from our leaders, whether that’s in the form of government initiatives and subsidies, in the communications and reassurances handed down by our employers or in regular virtual check-ins with our managers and colleagues.
In the benefits space, we need the flexibility to continue using the programs offered to us through the workplace, even if it’s no longer traditional. Many employers that have been forced to temporarily lay off workers or cut pay have left the benefits plan intact for everyone, and I applaud those decisions.
Now, more than ever, employees need access to their employee assistance programs or any other mental-health supports available. Don’t underestimate how people are feeling in their self-isolated quarantines — I assure you, everyone is reacting to their new reality in a different way.
For retirement and pension plans, employers and the industry as a whole are facing many challenges. Off the back of an unparelleled economic downturn, investment accounts are depleted, leaving retirees reeling and savers wondering what to do next.
At Benefits Canada, we’re working every day to ensure we’re shedding some light on these topics and answering all of your questions. Please visit BenefitsCanada.com to keep up to date on all of the breaking regulatory news that plan sponsors need to know, as well as suggestions from the industry on weathering this storm. If we stick together, practice social distancing and support one another, we’ll get through this.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.