Jun 30, 2020

Rethinking Employee Benefits Post-COVID-19

Can you think of a single aspect of your life that hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 crisis? From travel to parenting to eating habits to work, it’s a safe bet that most of your day-to-day living has experienced some sort of upheaval. Not to say that all change is bad—there are actually silver linings to be found in this frightening and unpredictable time.

Many small businesses are discovering the need for a fair amount of give-and-take during the recovery period. For example, your supply chain might need some restructuring, but an influx of orders from customers who are finally venturing out of their homes could help offset the cost of those efforts.

Employee benefits are likely to undergo a similar evolution of added costs mixed with efficient savings. Long before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus, small business owners nationwide were improving their benefits in order to attract and retain employees. To offset these added costs, they identified methods to streamline the process.

“Employers were using technology as a way to cut costs in employee well-being before the pandemic began,” explains a benefits report from Forbes. “Telemedicine and telehealth increased 10% year over year, and 72% of employers offered that benefit in 2019. Since the pandemic, 86% of companies are encouraging employees to access telemedicine or telehealth services if they need care.”

Telemedicine gained traction in 2019 because it is an easy-to-implement benefit that saves businesses money by reducing employee visits to urgent care centers and the ER. When healthcare is only a phone call away, people are more likely to practice preventative care and manage their chronic conditions. As a result, illnesses are shorter and less severe. Workers recover faster and spread infections to their colleagues less often.

Remote work is another tech-driven benefit that was already gaining steam in 2019 and has exploded this year. Research shows that 97% of employers are practicing social distancing in their workplaces, which often means employees are staying home. In fact, the percentage of businesses with more than 3/4 of their employees working from home has tripled since before COVID-19.

If you previously had reservations about your employees working from home, this crisis likely caused you to adapt in a hurry. According to one study, 99% of American workers now want the option to work from home for the rest of their careers. 

That might sound daunting, given the requirements for support technology. You need to have collaboration software in place, ensure internet capabilities, and reconfigure many of your workflow practices. Of course, these changes will cost money to initiate and maintain.

In return for offering the benefit of working from home, your employees will be more productive and satisfied. Remember how nearly every worker in America likes the idea of working from home in the future? Another study revealed that 34% of employees would even take a pay cut if it meant they could work from home.

You likely won’t be forced to cut any salaries in exchange for more work-from-home opportunities, but that statistic highlights how important this benefit is to workers: so important that the reduction of other perks and benefits might be more acceptable to your team as long as you reward them with continued flexibility in their working arrangements.

What other employee benefits will businesses need to reassess after COVID-19? The answers to this question vary wildly depending on your unique circumstances, and hard-hit industries will need to be more judicious than businesses that have been less affected by the pandemic.

Every small business will need to conduct a benefits audit. The point of this exercise is to identify the program offerings your employees most value and utilize. Telehealth and working from home likely fall into this camp. These benefits should not only be retained but refined. Identify the best and most meaningful ways to deliver them to your people.

On the flip side, you’ll find benefits that may have been in place for years but have never really moved the needle for your employees. Examples include corporate discount programs or elaborate office game rooms. Eliminating them reduces costs and makes your key benefits shine even brighter.

Every benefits audit should include your employees’ input—ask them directly which benefits mean the most to them and why. Follow up on those questions by asking them which benefits could be trimmed to cut costs. Your people are likely aware of the strain your business is experiencing: they’re willing to help save money and should have a say in how that is done.

You should also consider that you might need to add new benefits after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. For example, what kind of wellness offerings could you include that would help those at home or who are social distancing in the workplace? Mental healthcare is another benefits area that could use shoring up due to the anxiety and strain brought on by this crisis. Finally, childcare could also become a more prevalent offering.

Whatever you do, strive for flexibility. Your employees crave it in these chaotic times, and your business operations require it. By adding a healthy dose of flexibility to your benefits, you’ll be better able to adapt to whatever the future holds.

About the author

Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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