‘New reality’ of workplace includes virtual health care, enhanced mental-health support: survey

The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically affecting workplaces, employers and employees across Canada, according to a new survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

While a third of surveyed employers said they already offered telehealth or telemedicine before the pandemic, an additional 19 per cent said they added it during the crisis and another 17 per cent said they’re considering doing so. In addition, in response to the coronavirus, nine per cent of respondents said they’ve reduced or eliminated cost-sharing for these services, while another nine per cent said they ‘re considering it.

The survey also found more than half of Canadian employers have either added (28 per cent) or are considering adding (24 per cent) elements to their existing mental-health benefits. Due to the pandemic, 10 per cent of respondents have added virtual mental-health benefits, while 15 per cent are considering it. A smaller number of employers said they’ve relaxed or removed eligibility requirements (four per cent) or reduced or eliminated cost-sharing for these benefits (four per cent).

Read: Canadians cite 91% satisfaction rate with virtual health care

Many employers are also reducing barriers to prescription drug access, with one in four survey respondents saying they’ve temporarily waived prescription drug premiums for plan members and 17 per cent extending the time allowed under prior authorization periods. Smaller numbers of employers have waived prior authorization requirements (eight per cent) or mandated/promoted the use of mail-order programs for maintenance drugs (four per cent).

In terms of retirement savings plans, the survey found just nine per cent of respondents said they’re noticing a greater number of members making changes to their contribution or deferral levels compared with pre-coronavirus levels. However, some eight per cent said they’re noticing a smaller share of employees making changes.

About two-thirds (64 per cent) said they haven’t seen a change in the number of defined contribution pension plan withdrawals. Indeed, only eight per cent of employers reported an increase in withdrawals, with one in four saying it was too early to tell.

Read: Could coronavirus delay DC plan members’ expected retirements?

And finally, the survey found the pandemic has had substantial ramifications on company operations, forcing many employers to make difficult decisions around workplace staffing levels. More than a third (38 per cent) said they’ve implemented a temporary hiring freeze, with an additional six per cent considering doing so in the future.

In addition, 28 per cent said they’ve laid off workers or reduced their workforce, with three per cent considering the measure in the future. Twenty per cent of respondents said they’ve reduced workers’ hours, while 17 per cent said they’ve required workers to take temporary unpaid leave.

“Employers across Canada have made changes to their plans to adapt to the new reality,” said Julie Stich, the organization’s vice-president of content, in a press release. “We’re seeing employers make decisions to ensure not only the health and well-being of their workforce but also the financial stability and long-term success of their organization.”

Read: How should Canadian employers be responding to the coronavirus?