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Five fundamental questions for employers to future-proof benefits

Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Royston Tan and Abhishek Singh | June 23, 2020

Taking proactive measures on employee benefits could enable organisations to weather the next global-scale disruption.

The current pandemic is a wake-up call for organisations to carefully review not only their business strategies but also their benefits strategies, policies and procedures. Taking proactive measures could enable organisations to weather the next global-scale disruption.

Here are 5 employee benefits questions that organisations should ask to protect themselves against future pandemics or similar disruptions.

Does the benefits program provide sufficient coverage for employees and their dependents in the event of an epidemic or pandemic? Is the organisation at a higher financial risk during a pandemic? Does the organisation support employees to stay engaged with their benefits program during a pandemic? Post COVID-19, is the benefits program compliant with the latest changes in regulation? What benefits data and market insights are required to make real time decisions?
5 employee benefits questions employers can ask to protect against future pandemics
  1. Does the benefits program provide sufficient coverage for employees and their dependents in the event of an epidemic or pandemic?

    The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the critical importance of employee benefits, and especially health care benefits, the need to be more comprehensive, inclusive and optimized, and to strengthen a culture of safety.

    Organisations may consider implementing employee benefits programs such as checking medical provisions, including wellbeing services, normalising safety protocols, and strengthening flexible leave policies.
    How can employers plan ahead for pandemic preparedness in their employee benefits?

    The programs could include:

    • Provisions for medical treatments and procedures, such as vaccination and ventilators
    • Access to digitalised medical and wellbeing services, such as online medical second opinion and mental wellbeing apps
    • Normalising remote working and safe working protocols, so that employees are equipped to react appropriately during a pandemic
    • Redesigning leave policies to be flexible in case of work disruptions, such as when an employee or their dependent is placed on mandatory quarantine
    • Provisions for additional considerations, such as alternative working hours or personal protective equipment, for employees who are primary caregivers for their family
  2. Is the organisation at a higher financial risk during a pandemic?

    Organisations can expect health benefit costs to go up during or after a pandemic due to increased use of healthcare services as a result of such healthcare emergency. Between organisations with self-funded and fully funded plans, there is a larger risk for self-funded companies, and more so if many of their workers are hospitalised. Based on the current experience of COVID-19, expectation is that cost may potentially increase due to higher health claims by as much as 7%.

    Based on the current experience of COVID-19, expectation is that cost may potentially increase due to higher health claims by as much as 7%.

    Organisations should consider incorporating proven intervention strategies in business continuity planning, and prioritising analysis claims and employee utilisation of EAP and telemedicine.
    How can organisations mitigate financial risks?

    Organisations can mitigate financial risks by:

    • Incorporating proven intervention strategies in the business continuity planning (BCP) for epidemic or pandemics, particularly with implementing social distancing proactively and providing access to antiviral treatments
    • Prioritising claims analysis and employee utilisation of the short-term solutions offered, such as telemedicine and employee assistance programs (EAP). This would support financial decisions for ongoing coverage and in future events, while also allowing room for innovation in healthcare services that are likely to emerge from the pandemic.
  3. Does the organisation support employees to stay engaged with their benefits program during a pandemic?

    It is important that organisations spend time staying connected with their employees and provide the necessary support to help them to stay engaged while working remotely during a pandemic.

    It’s important for organisations to connect with their employees to help them stay engaged while working remotely.

    Organisations may consider taking the following actions:

    • Ensure that employees have access to necessary productivity tools and validate the availability of their personal internet connection as well as suitable workspace at home
    • Offer to subsidise remote working expenses, such as internet speed boost or the higher phone bills
    • Continually review current and new working conditions, workplace setups and tools
    • Look into implementing new tools for employee engagement such as online portals and mobile apps as part of standard and ongoing communication protocol. Test these by putting them into regular use and asking employees to assess these both onsite and offsite.
    • Review the processes for benefits administration and delivery. Work with vendors and partners to identify gaps and risks, streamline processes and innovate for future readiness.
    Organisations may offer to subsidise remote working expenses, and check employees’ productivity tools, internet connection and workspace at home.
    Organisations should consider the following to improve employee engagement.
  4. Post COVID-19, is the benefits program compliant with the latest changes in regulation?

    During this pandemic, several governments enacted a variety of measures to expand health and wellbeing protection. For example, in China, employees who contracted COVID-19 at work are eligible for employment injury benefits; Vietnam funded the quarantining, testing and treatment of positive cases; Singapore advised organisations to let employees use full leave entitlements for caregiving.

    In redesigning benefits for future resiliency, organisations must keep the following in mind:

    • Stay attuned to emerging trends and regulatory changes, as these will almost certainly impact cost and delivery of benefits program
    • In multinational organisations, global HQs need to allow room for countries or regional leaders to work out a localised strategy, thereby enabling them to balance employee needs with local policies for pandemic response
  5. What benefits data and market insights are required to make real time decisions?

    Over 70% of organisations globally1 increased their employee communications during the pandemic, leveraging tools such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups for insights to inform real-time decisions. Organisations can continue benefiting from these datapoints by doing the following:

    Over 70% of organisations increased their employee communications during COVID-19, leveraging employee surveys and virtual focus groups.

    • Open communication with employees and regularly solicit and review employee’s feedback, in order to stay abreast of what is relevant to employees
    • Leverage analytics, insights and reporting from service vendors to assess benefits expenses and investments in order to put focus on benefits that matter to employees
    Organisations may leverage tools such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups for insights.
    Many organisations globally are leveraging tools to increase their employee communications during the pandemic.

The road ahead for organisations

With the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees in mind, an employee benefits program that is future-proof can go some way towards mitigating the risks associated with future pandemics and offer appropriate support to employees. Early preparations will enable organisations to manage many interconnected pathways, including what benefits are offered, how they are financed and how they are delivered.

Reference:

1 Willis Towers Watson COVID-19 Employer Readiness Survey

Authors

Head of Strategic Development & North Asia (ex. China), Health & Benefits, Asia and Australasia

Senior Consultant, Benefits Advisory Services, Health & Benefits, Asia and Australasia

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