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Shifting Priorities: Rethinking Employee Benefits

06 Jul 2022 8:55 AM | Bill Brewer (Administrator)

Two mixed race businesspeople working on a digital tablet in a meeting together at work. Business professionals using technology in an office. Businessman pointing to a digital tablet screen while sitting with his female colleague

July 1, 2022 by Debby Routt, Forbes Councils Member, Forbes Human Resources Council

Since the pandemic started, HR professionals have had to juggle retaining their current employees while also attracting new talent. Employees have more options than ever when it comes to job choice. They’ve come to expect benefits like comprehensive healthcare plans, creative time off options and development opportunities that include job shadowing. But, while important, benefits are just one of many reasons a candidate chooses you over another company or why an employee stays at your company.

Now is the time for HR leaders to get creative and look for areas where they can make adjustments to their employee benefits. Here are some ways to help you stand out.

Behavioral health services have taken center stage recently as more employers are offering counseling as part of their employee assistance programs (EAPs). HR professionals need to start looking at the quality of these services at a much deeper level. Historically, EAPs provided high-level counseling with a predetermined number of visits per year and were bundled together with other benefits like short-term disability for a reduced price. But now, more EAPs are providing comprehensive mental health services for employees.

The adage “you get what you pay for” is true when it comes to EAPs. Organizations must ask the right questions when evaluating a potential partner. For example, ask how many certified specialists they employ and if they have a waitlist. Ask about the average wait time to get an appointment with a counselor since some counselors have long waitlists due to high demand. Check to see if they have specialists who are certified to work with your employees’ children as the pandemic has impacted our younger populations in profound ways. HR leaders should also talk with other companies that use the EAP services they are evaluating or ask for references.

It's also crucial to take the time to find a partner that really understands your organization and your employee population, instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach. You should choose an EAP that can provide you with reporting to identify the challenges your employee population is currently facing. If you have several employees who are reaching out for help with anxiety, childcare needs or financial hardships, use the data as you evaluate benefit plans to make more informed decisions about what to offer.

An EAP isn’t valuable if your employees don’t take advantage of it. All too often, HR leaders get an EAP and have extremely low utilization rates. Your EAP shouldn't be a “get it and forget it” benefit. You must put a plan in place to promote the offerings throughout the year. Find ways to make the services more attractive to your employees. If it’s not front and center, you’re wasting money.

Flexibility Is A Must For Work-Life Balance

Letting employees have time off has always been important to prevent burnout, but it's even more so now since they are juggling the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Even with increased flexibility provided by remote and hybrid work schedules, employees are finding it difficult to step away from their work even when they have days off.

Traditional PTO plans may no longer be the answer. When making changes to PTO benefits, employers need to consider their employees’ needs to help them disconnect. Sometimes it might be stepping away for a few hours to attend a PTA meeting or to attend a wellness class. Many employees have come to expect the ability to move away from the standard 9-to-5 work schedule and are wanting more flexible hours.

Work-life balance is crucial right now. If an employee doesn’t have any meetings scheduled in the afternoon and wants to join their kids on the playground for recess, they should feel empowered to do so if their job allows them to. This will help balance the times when they need to put in additional hours during evenings or weekends.

For employees to feel comfortable taking time out for themselves or their families when needed, organizations need to make sure they’re creating a culture that supports this type of flexibility. They should also try to honor their employees' PTO by minimizing incidents when they need to contact them during vacation time.

Professional Development Should Be A Two-Way Conversation

Investing in your employees has always been incredibly important to ensure they have a robust career development plan. But the Great Resignation has caused more employees to start looking for professional development opportunities as they are able to compete in more job markets due to the flexibility of remote work. If employers don't provide these opportunities, expect employees to find a company that will.

It's important that managers have a conversation with their employees to help them identify beneficial development opportunities and how they will help to support them in their career paths. Goal setting is an effective way to kick off this conversation by identifying how an employee wants to grow in their career. Managers can provide guidance on options such as on-the-job training, classes, webinars, podcasts, job shadowing and books that could be beneficial. If they know they will need to complete their professional development outside of work hours, they should have clear expectations so they can plan for the additional time commitment.

Finally, organizations should invest in good management training. Employees historically don't leave companies, but instead, leave bad managers. Now is one of the most important times to make sure that managers are really in sync with their employees so they’re able to effectively lead and manage their team. Leading in a hybrid work environment is much different than anything many managers have faced before. Make sure you are working with your leaders on how to manage in a hybrid environment. While some employees are natural people leaders, others need guidance so they can effectively deal with things like personnel issues, development plans and difficult conversations.

As employee priorities continue to shift, it's vital that companies keep pace and rethink their benefits.

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Source: Forbes

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