Employee well-being growing area of post-pandemic focus for employers: survey

While 72 per cent of Canadian employers said they’ll make minimal or no changes to their benefits coverage in 2021, 21 per cent are planning some plan design changes around health coverage, according to a new survey by Arther J. Gallagher & Co.

Eight per cent said they’re looking at plan design and contribution structure changes, while just four per cent said they expect to make major strategic changes to their benefits offerings.

Employers also said they expect to expand their well-being offerings, with 19 per cent saying they’ll increase their program offerings to help employees with their overall well-being and 37 per cent saying they’ll include new resources and tools for overall well-being. As well, 37 per cent said they plan to include additional support for emotional well-being, 19 per cent said they’ll up their financial well-being support, 10 per cent plan will increase community/social support and six per cent said they’ll offer additional physical support. Meanwhile, 40 per cent said they’re not implementing any changes to their well-being program.

Read: Should plan sponsors shift their benefits plan spend during coronavirus?

“We might see some specific changes being contemplated instead of the benefits program through extending psychology benefits, introducing not just telehealth — which would get at the physical needs of employees — but also introducing components through telehealth services that get at mental health and emotional well-being,” says Melanie Jeannotte, national president of Gallagher’s benefits service group in Canada.

“We [also] think we’ll start to see more and more — and certainly among our clients — [of] a desire for resiliency and engagement survey work to create the benchmark, because there’s a really large toolkit from which we can draw for well-being strategies, but it’s bringing the right solutions at the right time.”

The survey also found three-quarters of respondents are in the midst of planning for a return to the workplace, but uncertainty about what that looks like remains high. A quarter (26 per cent) said they have a policy they can modify as needed and eight per cent said they’re drafting a policy. Almost half (43 per cent) said they’re considering what’s possible but are waiting for more guidance from local authorities, while just 23 per cent have yet to start a return-to-work strategy.

“There remains a lot of uncertainty around the path forward to return to the workplace and not just in the short term but in the long term,” says Jeannotte. “Though we may bring a stepped approach to building a roadmap, . . . it’s just not [going to be] as prescriptive as people had maybe hoped it would be.”

Read: Survey finds strong employee loyalty but divided views on return to work

While companies are preparing for an eventual return to the workplace, many have plans for extended working-from-home arrangements. Just 17 per cent of companies with employees able to work from home said they’d only allow it until isolation, quarantine and shelter-in-place orders are lifted. Almost half (47 per cent) said their work-from-home arrangements would continue for a few weeks or months after those orders are lifted and 34 per cent said the arrangements will continue indefinitely.

The survey also found 72 per cent of employers said they implemented new work-from-home policies during the pandemic, while 43 per cent put in flexible scheduling. After the pandemic, 85 per cent said they plan to retain a work-from-home policy and 74 per cent plan to keep flexible scheduling in place.

As well, more than half of employers said they’re considering making short-term (55 per cent) and permanent (53 per cent) modifications to their work-from-home policy allowances.

“You’re not going to financially invest in remote workplace resource needs unless there’s some intention there,” says Jeannotte. “I think what [the pandemic has] done is really broken down some misconceptions around effectiveness of remote work or work from home.”

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For companies planning to bring back staff, 57 per cent said they’re bringing back a reduced number of employees to maintain social distancing in the workplace, 17 per cent will initially only bring back employees essential for a restart and 19 per cent said they’ll require or request employees who are working from home to continue to do so. Just eight per cent said they plan to bring back 100 per cent of eligible employees.