By Jeff Faber

As employers grapple with their reopening strategies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, one of their top considerations moving forward should be to reevaluate whether their existing benefits portfolio will meet the needs of their new workforce.

The pandemic and its impact have forced a sea change in employees’ attitudes, needs and priorities and, in turn, what they expect of and will most value from their employers in this new environment. How we position benefits is part of the problem and lessens the perceived value to employees. The best response is personalizing the impact less as insurance and more as an assist to ultimately save employees time and/or money. We often get bogged down in the whats and who’s like deductibles and carrier networks and not into the whys and hows of “this will save you three hours” and “using this tool will save you $1,500.” Of course, each slice of your population will need to hear a slightly different message – one that resonates with them individually.

Now is the ideal time for employers to step up their support through a benefits strategy that custom curates a distinct benefits plan for each segment of the employee population.

That takes charting out the organization’s cultural/demographic mix – understanding how many employees fit into different life and job/career stages with an emphasis on the number of years of service they’ve been with you. A typical workforce might include (among other segments):

  • An early 20s recent hire, who is just a year into the job, is probably still on her parents’ plan and is more concerned with acquiring experience than engaging with her benefits.
  • An older technical employee who’s also a year in with the company, but as this is his second experience with benefits, he is likely better able to engage with the workforce and his benefits.
  • A large group of your workforce encompasses the “forgotten middles” – they aren’t the new hires, nor are they the senior executive team that founded the company. They are often 35 to 60 with 5 to 15 years of service. This is the group that has medical issues in transition from annual annoyances to evolving chronic conditions requiring care. The group is a challenge for benefits professionals to re-engage in controlling their costs by making different choices.

By applying data analytics to employee demographic information – using census data, for example – employers can improve their understanding of opportunities or gaps in their population on the benefits side. Reframing our offering and how we communicate its value is key. For example:

  • With much of the population nationwide financially fragile today, a $20 increase in monthly contributions might otherwise represent a bag of groceries or payment on an electric bill. Part of this population may reside in a food desert, with no grocers within a mile or without access to public transportation. This could exacerbate acute and chronic health issues. We help employers identify how much of their employee population falls in this category, how has that changed from a year ago and how the employer can make a difference.
  • Another consideration might be those employees with a gap in their standard long-term disability benefit – this typically includes higher paid and older employees or those in sales roles. Since COVID-19, more focus has been on closing gaps for disability and life insurance. Through analytics, employers can understand which employee classes are most at risk to gaps between salaries and LTD payments and what solutions might be in order to effectively close the gap for these employees.

Other, “softer” benefits can be offered that offer tremendous value to specific employee groups without necessarily costing the employer much, if anything. Easier access, perhaps with discounts, to auto, homeowners and renters insurance has widespread appeal. We’ve seen how pet insurance is a high priority for parts of the workforce, as well as access to college loan debt refinancing programs for younger millennial and GenZ employees.

Each employer will have a different reopening strategy, but a common priority should be to ensure that people strategies, processes and technology align with the changed population. Once we get beyond the logistical, health and safety challenges of returning, the next steps will be to repair and restore the benefits program backbone. Then, companies must focus on restatements of the company culture and a recommitment to structures for salaries, bonus and 401(k) contributions. From there, the new course can be charted – from evaluating past work practices for future value, to deciding future office space needs and hoteling opportunities, to evaluating evolving talent needs.

By doing the hard work of reevaluating your benefits portfolio for each part of your workforce, you will be properly positioned for this new world.

HUB International’s employee benefit specialists consult with employers of all sizes and in all industries on every aspect of employee benefits program planning and management.

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