Sheri Atwood, CEO and Founder of SupportPay, discusses how HR leaders are driving their companies to adopt benefits that support employees at every stage of life.
This article was first published on December 14, 2022, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders.
Benefits and compensation have always been a hot topic in the world of human resources, and they’re continuing to gain heat as we move toward a New Year. One benefit that’s become popular over the last few years is caregiving support.
In fact, according to experts, 84% of employee caregivers said they’d like their employer to offer caregiving support as life expectancy changes and impacts of the pandemic on eldercare have increased the number of employees with this responsibility.
HR Leaders and organizations are not only heading in the right direction by implementing family-friendly benefits — expanding elderly assistance, paid family leave, childcare, and family building — but also companies need to focus on benefits for each life stage, according to Sheri Atwood, CEO and Founder of SupportPay.
"There are a number of groups still left behind like employees who are single parents or those navigating divorce or separation," Atwood shared with HR Daily Advisor. "In 2023, we’ll see companies continuing to implement holistic benefits that address each life stage and add more features to their benefit programs that meet employees where they are."
Neha Mirchandani, CMO + Head of People at BrightPlan, a leader in Total Financial Wellness, knows HR teams need to use this open enrollment season to address the cultural shift facing employees around caregiving, financial stress, and worsening mental health and burnout. We recently connected with Mirchandani about what benefits are needed to better support the individual needs of employees in 2023.
Here’s what she had to say.
Let’s start with the basics: What is open enrollment and why is it more important now than ever for employers and employees?
Open enrollment has traditionally been viewed as a discrete phase in the work year where employees can change or update their benefits package to better meet their current needs. It’s about empowering employees with the awareness and knowledge to make the right benefits selections for themselves and their families.
Yet, to be truly effective and to meet employees where they are, especially in the current market environment and based on their shifting needs, open enrollment needs to be an ongoing effort. Employers need to consider open enrollment as a strategic yearlong effort that enables them to continuously listen to their employees’ evolving needs, curate the right mix of benefits in response, and work with their broker and solution provider partners to effectively roll out personalized and tailored benefits offerings that best meet the needs of their workforce. The annual open enrollment cycle is a way for employers to demonstrate empathy, a commitment to employee well-being and foster a culture of care.
Why should open enrollment be a year-long effort and how is this beneficial for employers and employees?
With employee needs evolving continuously, a one and done approach that focuses solely on open enrollment season (benefits enrollment and administration), is no longer sufficient. Employers need to approach open enrollment as a strategic year-long continuum that enables them to actively listen to employee needs and respond appropriately with the benefits that matter most (and ideally not having to wait until open enrollment season).
In a rapidly changing environment, this strategic annual approach to open enrollment offers a more streamlined way to navigate the complexities of today’s modern benefits landscape, creates tighter alignment and partnership between employers and their broker and solution provider partners, and drives stronger benefits engagement and utilization with employees.
How can employers determine which benefits are top of mind for employees?
First and foremost, employers need to listen intently to their employees and their pain points. Employee needs are continually evolving, and employers need to have a real-time pulse by leveraging technology for active listening.
Today, wellness benefits are a top priority for the workforce. According to BrightPlan’s 2022 Wellness Barometer Survey, 51% of all employees have experienced worsening mental health since the start of the pandemic, 72% are stressed about their finances due to high inflation and market volatility, and one-third of employees have left the workforce for caregiving responsibilities. This data reinforces the need for employers to support their people’s holistic well-being – physical, mental, and financial.
Considering these pressures employees face today, they are feeling squeezed on all fronts. Hence, benefits offered need to speak to their needs directly, which requires augmenting traditional offerings with new and innovative wellness benefits like mental health apps, wellness incentives and financial wellness programs.
The Brandon Hall Group found that 89% of employers that track wellness spending see a positive return on investment. Improvements in business outcomes tied to well-being include employee engagement (81%), retention rate (67%), reduction in burnout (48%), customer satisfaction (48%), customer retention (35%) and profitability (24%), among others. When employees are truly supported in all aspects of their lives, the effect can be felt at all levels of the organization.
How can employers use open enrollment and wellness benefits to help meet diverse and personalized employee needs?
Each employee has a unique background and life experience, which needs to be factored into a well-being program for it to be truly inclusive and provide personalized value to every employee. It’s also important for employers to address this in an authentic way through wellness benefits that meet employees where they are with the right level of support. When done right, this helps foster a culture of care and belonging where every employee feels welcome, safe and can bring their whole selves to work.
There is a direct connection between well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, lack of representation and support as well as microaggressions and biases in the workplace—in addition to racism and racial violence outside the workplace—all have a negative impact on overall well-being. Further, finances are the number one cause of stress for employees, especially for those from underrepresented backgrounds who have fewer resources and have been disproportionately affected by job losses stemming from the pandemic. Employers have an opportunity to make a big impact by acknowledging the relationship between mental health, financial wellness, and overall well-being when building wellness and DE&I initiatives.
Further, open enrollment and Total Rewards strategies need to be about providing access to the benefits and programs that help create a sense of well-being, safety and security. Throughout the open enrollment cycle, employers should audit their current wellness benefits offering and consider whether they need to make changes to better address the needs of diverse employee populations. Wellness programs should be accessible to all employees with careful consideration given to family needs, culture, age, demographic, health, and financial status.
What open enrollment trends do you see now and what can you predict about future open enrollment cycles?
In the current market environment and despite increased layoffs, many employees continue to leave their jobs in favor of more flexibility, higher pay, and better benefits. Today, the percentage of employees looking to actively leave their roles is nearly 50%, according to Gallup. Attracting and retaining top talent and driving the employee experience remains critical to business success.
Employers need to continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves in a competitive talent market. A Total Rewards strategy that is rooted in employee wellness is key. Not only does this provide employees with the support they need in and out of the workplace, it also assists companies and their HR teams with attracting, retaining and motivating top talent while fostering a culture of care and belonging.
Benefits are important in this mix, starting with actively listening to shifting employees’ needs and responding in real-time. Data and insights gleaned from employee listening can be key to analyzing benefits gaps that enable employers to remain agile. Ultimately, this empowers employers to offer new innovative benefits as the need arises, instead of having to wait until the traditional open enrollment season. Doing so enables employers to address employee needs in a responsive and timely manner and demonstrates to employees that they’re valued and that their company truly cares.
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