For some workers, such as parents or single people who live alone, the prospect of spending some time in an office and reconnecting with colleagues is appealing. A desire to return to the office spans across generations , as 42% of workers would prefer to work fully on-site, including 56% of Baby Boomers and 46% of Generation Z workers.1 Yet, others have become accustomed to working virtually and believe they are able to maintain productivity and personal connections. More than half of all employees would prefer to work remotely at least part of the time going forward. The common denominator for a majority of workers is their desire for employee flexibility, which organizations are addressing in a shift to hybrid work models that give the workforce the ability to choose.
“The technology available to make hybrid work a possibility has been around for some time,” says Dean Del Vecchio, CIO and Chief of Operations at Guardian. “Employees have rapidly adopted communication and collaboration technologies in a way that is now a fundamental expectation of the workday.”
In fact, this change in lifestyle and workstyle is so important to the workforce that it’s considered the most important benefit that an organization can provide outside of salary and standard benefits is allowing for flexibility, a positive trend that has seen a 20% uptick since 2019.1 A major challenge that employers will need to assess in 2022 is how to foster community, keep remote workers engaged, and provide strong mentorship and coaching when not in person.
“Time is the most important benefit an employer can provide,” says Gene Lanzoni, SVP, Thought Leadership at Guardian. "For many of us the pandemic afforded us more time, and we’re really not willing to give that back” he claims. “We had a taste of a more balanced life.”
Well-being was the major headline of the past year, and how employers shift to accommodate new and expanded well-being resources will be a major focus of 2022. Since one in five adults experience mental health issues annually, it is the defining topic of our time and the first priority for benefits leaders. Overall, the pandemic has caused 48% of organizations to focus on employees’ mental health in the workplace significantly more than in previous years.2
70% of employers agree that they address employees’ emotional health, including anxiety and stress level, mental health, and work/life balance, extremely well.2 However, only 47% of employees say their organization offers adequate mental health support, and underutilization of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) show that resources are perhaps still lagging behind employees’ needs.2
The pandemic has led to increased employee attrition, especially with younger employees who are struggling the most with mental health impacts, according to John Modica, Head of Go-to-Market Strategy at Guardian. “In order to attract and retain the best talent, companies need to demonstrate they care about their workforce’s health and well-being. Given the different needs and perceptions among generations, a one-size-fits-all approach may not work. There are certain things you can do to tailor employee benefits for each generation. For example, millennials value benefits choices, paid time off, ability to work remotely, control over their schedules, and a great deal of flexibility.”
The key to a mental health strategy in the workplace is to normalize it within the organizational culture and day-to-day dialogue. Lean on leadership to make well-being a legitimate priority by organically and consistently addressing it in announcements, emails, and Town Hall meetings. Include behavioral health resources in HR and workplace policies, employee benefits offerings, and employee communications. Increasing your organization’s investment in workforce mental health resources would put you in good company, as 9 in 10 employers plan on increasing their spending on mental health benefits in 2022.2
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Only a couple of years ago, absence management and paid leave policies were almost exclusively within the HR departments’ domain. However, 80% of employers say that senior leadership’s awareness of the importance of leave management has been raised significantly due to the number of employees who needed to take extended leave due to COVID-19 — either because they were ill themselves or because they needed to care for a sick family member.1
Three out of four employers changed their unpaid leave policies to paid due to COVID-19, and that trend will continue throughout 2022.1 Leave management changes prompted by COVID-19 included: brand new or separate COVID-related policies, an expansion of definitions within current policies, increased benefit levels, waived waiting or elimination periods, and the increase of benefit durations.
The employee leave experience begins with company culture, says Garlande Patz, Sr. Absence Management Solution Practice Leader at Guardian. It’s important to review the organizational philosophy around leave and take a look at what type of education and training is provided to HR staff, supervisors, and employees.
The expansion of paid company leave policies will continue to be top of mind for employers in 2022, especially at the state level, says Garlande Patz, Sr. Absence Management Solution Practice Leader at Guardian. “Large and small firms that have multi-state employee presence need to consider how their state benefits interact with their company benefits, and whether they’re going to offer a private plan or go through the state.” The complexities around these decisions and their management, she explains, “are some of the reasons we’re continuing to see an increase in outsourcing, and I don’t see that slowing down in 2022.”
Many employers – two out of three, in fact - are considering outsourcing FMLA administration for the first time in order to help with leave management priorities such as maintaining compliance and keeping up with constantly changing laws and policies.1 In addition, outsourcing leave admin can provide an organization help with improving productivity, replacing income during a time of need, and helping employees to stay at work.1
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Report: Absence Management Redefined: During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
Trend #4: Investments will be made in technology to help employees make the most of their benefits options
With the widespread move to remote and hybrid work, more than a third of employers1 say the pandemic accelerated their organization’s use of benefits technology. Just as the internet democratized access to information, providing enrollment advice digitally can democratize access to and understanding of employee benefits, says Zarifa Reynolds, VP, Head of Small Business Segment at Guardian.
Since only 22% of employees report they’re extremely confident in their benefits selections,1 this is an area for many employers to address. The use of data to improve benefits decision-making is going to be a major trend in 2022 and in coming years. In fact, almost half of workers wished that they were given access to an online platform with decision-support tools to help guide their selection of benefits.1
Small businesses in particular will be experiencing an upward trend in 2022 of investing in benefits and HR technology solutions. For most small business benefits, that means outsourcing these functions to a reputable third party. As a result of these rising investments, there’s been a 58% increase since 2018 in the number of small firms that describe themselves as “highly digital” (24% in 2018 compared to 38% in 2021).3
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Trend #5: Addressing justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace will be essential to organizational culture
Throughout 2022, employers should and will continue to reassess their diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) strategies. Not only has prioritizing DEI been shown to help organizations’ bottom line, there’s also a strong connection to employee retention and engagement.1
In fact, the way an employer cultivates allyship incorporates DEI strategies into the organization’s culture will affect the emotional well-being of the workforce. Employees who are a part of a corporate culture that values flexibility and inclusion, supports diversity, responds to social justice causes, and encourages empathy generally report 70% better well-being than those who work in an organization that does not offer DEI support.2 It is essential for building employee satisfaction during 2022 and beyond, and only one in three employers actually have a DEI strategy with specific goals and aligned initiatives in place.
If you’re not sure where to start, ask. Your employees often know what they want; they are your biggest and best brand ambassadors who can put core business values into action.
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