Employers are applying several lessons from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to their benefits offerings, particularly the importance of employee well-being and access to virtual health care, says Marie-Josée Le Blanc, a partner and innovation leader at Mercer Canada.

“Before the pandemic, there were two types of organizations: those that were doing more to support well-being and those that were on the fence and had to prove the importance [of employee well-being] to their leadership team. For those employers that weren’t offering as much support, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of some solutions.”

Read: Half of Canadians increasing use of virtual health care amid pandemic: survey

Among employers that were already focusing on employee well-being, the pandemic’s biggest impact was the shift to delivering benefits virtually as their employees began working remotely, she says. And with many employers moving to flexible working arrangements post-pandemic, virtual health care options are here to stay. “Giving access to more digital health solutions will continue because the nature of work will change as well. A number of employees have already said they’ll never go back to the office five days a week. There’s a meaningful number of people who’ll be working remotely.”

Employers have also increased their mental-health resources amid the pandemic and ahead of what Le Blanc describes as an “aftershock” of lingering mental-health impacts. She notes Mercer’s most recent global trends report found 64 per cent of Canadian employers are introducing more mental-health supports to their benefits programs, including training for managers to recognize the early signs of mental-health issues.

Read: How to manage the employee mental-health tsunami

“We’re building the plane as we fly. We know mental health is going to be an issue and there’s going to be an increase in cases. However, in the past, we didn’t have as many tools as we do now. Organizations also need to think beyond employees on short-term disability. The vast majority of employees are still coping but faced with extra stress and you need to give them those tools.”

And among employers that insist on an eventual return to the office, many are planning to redesign workplaces to inspire teamwork. “These employers are creating a really nice environment where employees can collaborate — they don’t want to go back to spending their entire day on the phone or at their computer.”

Read: Half of employers plan to continue flexible working policies post-pandemic: survey