We’ve learned a lot over the course of what’s been a challenging year for us all. But perhaps one of the most notable takeaways is the idea that we have to rethink the benefits we provide our workers. This most recent enrollment period uncovered a number of findings that show the pandemic has taken a beating on people — and on employers.

Policies and plans have been stretched to the limit, both in terms of health-related and non-health related employee benefits. Those benefits are a big factor when it comes to where people want to work; prioritizing employee well-being by providing employee benefits that count is a must-do, and that’s not going to change post-pandemic. 

73% of respondents in a recent Prudential Financial survey said benefits programs are a big reason they would stay at a job — up from 59% a year ago. And this year, some 77% of respondents said they consider benefits programs a major part of their compensation, compared to 67% last year. But in case you need an even clearer sign: 52% of those surveyed said they would leave their current job and take a chance on a new one if it offered better employee benefits. 

The hiring forecast is undoubtedly going to brighten — it’s not a question of if, but how soon — and many studies envision improvements in job openings along with economic growth starting in 2021. Whether or not you’ve just revisited and revised your benefits offerings (often it’s linked to open enrollment season, but not always), here are five key factors you can’t overlook as an employer when it comes to employee benefits going forward:

Mental health  

Providing mental health benefits shouldn’t be an option, but a requirement at this point. If the spike in anti-anxiety-related claims and services is any indicator, people are struggling to cope.

Providing mental health benefits shouldn’t be an option, but a requirement at this point.

A survey of the prescriptions for over 31.5 million commercially insured individuals from January 19 to March 15 found that the week of March 15 was a doozy: anti-anxiety drug prescriptions surged by 34%. That’s the week the pandemic was declared. 

It’s worth noting that until then, the use of anti-anxiety meds was on the decline. Workplaces are stepping up with digital therapists and counseling, as well as frequent check-ins and surveys to take everyone’s pulse. 

One key to successfully bolstering the mental health of your employees is to think through how offerings are delivered: ensure they are well-communicated, discreet and confidential, and can be accessed via self-service.

Burnout prevention

I’m more and more convinced this needs to be a specific benefit above mental health in general.

Burnout is plaguing us,  from the C-Suite down to first-level hires. A recent study of 1,000 full-time U.S. employees and managers found that since the onset of COVID-19, burnout has spiked dramatically — 72% of employees report being burned out, a 30% leap from a study conducted just before the pandemic hit. 

Nearly half of employees (49%) reported less energy for non-work activities. 42% are having trouble sleeping at night and 33% are experiencing increased alcohol or substance use. 

Savvier leaders are asking their managers to scale back on Zoom meetings and endless deadlines when they can. As part of the employee benefits package, burnout prevention might look like a combination of communication, training, feedback and flexibility.

Manager support

We know managers have done a lot of heavy lifting during the pandemic, from getting remote teams functioning to dealing with frontline pressures.

In keeping with the notion that benefits should meet the needs of employees and not the other way around, we need to provide specific benefits for managers, too. 

New research on the manager experience during COVID-19 indicates that nearly half (47%) of frontline managers don't feel valued by their business. 59% are working longer hours since the pandemic started, and 72% experience pressure to work even if they’re sick. 

The last thing we need are disengaged, overwhelmed managers making presenteeism a habit — we need them to be able to function. Build a suite of benefits specifically for managers that include additional personal or emergency days, and the kinds of rewards and recognitions that help them feel valued.  

Learning and development

As organizations seek to bounce back from the pandemic, they’re going to need to engage, retain and hire.

Employees need and deserve to look forward to their own growth and development.

A major global study of millennial employees — which is now the largest generation in the workforce — found that 35% say training and development programs are among the top benefits they look for in employers.

While some companies had to scuttle their learning and development programs for the interim, this is precisely the time when they’re needed the most. There are countless forms training can take, from micro-learning to AI-generated coaching and remote mentoring.

Turn this into an evolving part of your benefits program and make sure it’s conveyed in ways that meet the needs of your employees. Employees need and deserve to look forward to their own growth and development — and it’s going to be one more way to engage and reassure them that there is, after all, life after COVID-19. 

Conclusion

There are three items not on this list, and I’ll explain why. Remote working and flexibility should not be considered benefits any more. For many, they are realities of working now.

We’ve passed the tipping point: if your organization has gone remote, it’s highly likely that some of your workforce has discovered they can produce and perform day after day, week after week, without stepping foot in their office — and see no reason to give that up.

For those with essential workforces, flexibility is one way we’re building in social distancing and reducing exposure risks. It’s also become a way to allow people to take care of themselves and their loved ones in these intensely challenging and unpredictable times.

The third item is recognition, which isn’t a matter of benefits now — it’s a matter of work culture. The act of recognizing and rewarding people for their energy and their service at this point should be a daily practice, conveyed across the organization whenever possible.

It’s undeniable that providing recognition and rewards in a workplace has a profound impact on engagement and can improve retention. We want to work where we’re wanted, after all.

And when we feel valued, and like our efforts are noticed, that also does wonders for our sense of well-being.


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.