Employer benefits have a long and evolving history in the United States, with broader societal changes continually driving new advances in how companies take care of their workforce.
In the 1920s, the federal government incentivized corporate retirement plans by making employer contributions tax-deductible, and in the following decades this benefit became a top negotiation item for increasingly powerful labor unions.
Employer-sponsored health insurance became widespread during World War II as companies, confronting both a labor shortage and a wage freeze ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt, looked to benefits to compete for workers.
Through the years, other benefits such as paid time off, educational assistance, and life and disability insurance became standard. In labor-strapped (and image-conscious) industries such as tech, some companies began offering extravagant perks such as lunches made by a professional chef, chair massages, dry cleaning services, and well-stocked break areas.
We now find ourselves in another time of change that is forcing organizations to rethink their approach to employee care. The pandemic has radically altered our societal, professional, and family lives. People’s priorities and needs have shifted. The very nature of one’s professional career is different.
As a result, companies must take a long, hard look at what they provide from a fresh, holistic perspective. Organizations should ask themselves: Are we supporting well-being in every sense of the word, in all areas of life, both professional and personal, to assist our workforce with managing stress, preventing burnout, and building emotional resilience? How are we helping each and every one of our employees amplify their full human potential and productivity?about:blank
Consider what a major development that is. What’s expected of employers is dramatically expanding, from addressing workers’ well-being reactively through mental health benefits and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to a deeper, more proactive and preventative approach to whole-person well-being.
Growing numbers of companies are embracing this new direction. According to an October survey of more than 3,600 companies worldwide by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, the pandemic’s impact has prompted nearly two-thirds of employers to make integrating well-being into their benefits packages a top strategic objective.
Nearly three-quarters of the employers surveyed said they intend to differentiate their benefits offerings to personalize the experience and meet employees’ specific needs over the next two years. Only 23 percent reported having such a plan in place now.
Let’s take a deeper dive into why reshaping employee benefits with a stronger focus on well-being has become so critically important. The urgency essentially boils down to four factors.
The pandemic has spotlighted how self-care consists of a wide array of distinctive components, unique to every individual, whether it’s stress management, better sleep hygiene, how to be a better parent, or how to help an elderly parent. The uber-stress of COVID-19 has magnified a host of other sources of anxiety and made it even more vital to tackle each.
As Stephanie Franklin, the chief human resources officer of pharmaceutical company Vertex, told the Boston Globe, employers must meet employees where they are: “The organizations that are going to get this right are the ones who listen, who really seek to understand, who experiment and see what’s going to work best for their workforce, and then who really adapt.”
This is 100 percent true. In addition, companies must adapt to the fact that some of the office-centric tactics they once used to promote a sense of well-being – from free snacks to team-bonding events – may no longer be relevant at a time when many are no longer coming to the office.
It’s time to retire the term work-life balance. I’m of course not suggesting that all work and no play is any way to live. But work-life balance suggests that personal and professional responsibilities are competing church-and-state elements to be kept separate in order to achieve equilibrium. In today’s more flexible world, enabled by technology, that’s just not possible.
Work-life integration has become a popular concept to describe better synergy with all the areas that define life – one’s job, family, community involvement, and personal well-being. Rather than unrealistically drawing boundaries between work time and personal time, professionals can handle work tasks at times that best suit them. It’s more about harmony than balance.
If more professionals are viewing their lives in this all-encompassing manner, companies need to follow suit. In the modern work-life integration landscape, companies need to be more fluid in how they support the whole person, in all facets of well-being.
More than half of employed parents with children between 3 and 17 in the United States are considering leaving their jobs because they feel their concerns during the pandemic haven’t been heard, according to a recent October Catalyst-CNBC survey. Sixty-one percent, for example, feel they are burnt out at work from managing their children’s educational needs during COVID-19.
Surely, such anxiety is a strong contributor to the Great Resignation, in which nearly 3 percent of the U.S. workforce left their jobs in October, following a record-high in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The situation vividly shows how interconnected life and work have become – one affects the other – and why, if companies want to retain talent, they have to view employee care comprehensively.
For too long, companies took a limited approach to employee well-being, such as health plans and EAP offerings that provide clinical mental health services for employees in moments of distress or crisis.
This kind of reactive approach to mental health that only intervenes with employees in crisis may have seemed sufficient in the past, but it really wasn’t. While incredibly valuable, these mechanisms missed a larger opportunity to provide resources that address the full range of employee needs.
As we are seeing today, employees want a different kind of support – more personalized, more far-reaching, more proactive and preventative – that takes into account the bigger picture of their all-around well-being, in whatever aspects of life they feel challenged.
As these four points show, now is the time for companies to value and foster individual well-being from all angles and empower employees to better themselves in the ways that work for them. This holistic philosophy is the latest historical evolution in employer benefits, and every company would be wise to get on board.
Source – Benefitspro.com