In 2020 the World Changed. Did your Benefits?

The COVID-19 pandemic, volatile economic implications, and protests against racial injustice are accelerating changes in the ways that US organizations work and invest in their employees. According to the 163 US HR leaders who participated in this year’s Global Talent Trends Study, investing in diversity, equity and inclusion analytics is the top priority for 2021. Stopping gender and race inequities will prove vital to an organization’s attractiveness and future resilience as investors and stakeholders increasingly insist on seeing significant progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Also among the top three priorities is workforce restructuring – reflecting the fact that over half the respondents (56%) expect COVID-19 to negatively impact their business – and reinventing flexibility, to build on the successes and address the challenges of remote working.

The study also asked employers for their thoughts on workforce health. Here are some of the key findings:

Reexamining what is most relevant. Clearly, employee health and well-being was front and center during the pandemic. And with COVID-19 revealing that not everyone’s future is equal, 55% of companies are reexamining what is most relevant to different persona groups. These efforts will be vital; research shows that offering more varied health and well-being resources leads to more energized workers who are less likely to leave. To tailor benefits to new realities, putting stopgap measures (such as enhanced benefits for caregivers) on a more permanent footing will need more attention in 2021.

This year nearly half of HR leaders focused on improving their analytics capabilities. Recent events around DEI have increased the urgency for improved analytics on health trends. It is heartening to see one in three companies have put understanding employees’ mental health on their agendas, as mental health challenges have only increased during this prolonged period of remote working and economic insecurity.

Inclusive benefits in their infancy. In the journey to more inclusive benefits, after employers arrive at an understanding of different employee group needs, they can leverage AI as a next step. AI can perform cluster demographic analysis to identify gaps in benefits in certain segments. In addition, AI-driven nudges can prompt employees to advance their health, wealth and career prospects – one in four companies are moving to implement this solution.

This year, firms will need to lean into data science to become intelligent benefit purchasers for their employees and understand how their vendors are performing. Yet just 29% of HR leaders use, or plan to use, predictive analytics that dynamically model healthcare costs and financial outcomes. Learning about what people truly value in benefits will be vital to offering cost-effective programs that make sense for diverse employee populations.

Into the limelight: Digital takes center stage. Digital health usage has likewise been accelerated by COVID-19. Telehealth is no longer an afterthought in employee health offerings: more than half (56%) of US companies plan to offer increased access to remote health and benefit options. And it’s clear that digital care delivery will become the centerpiece of programs to reengage employees in their wellbeing. The dark spot on the horizon is the sheer volume of virtual health options, app fatigue, and overlapping services implemented hurriedly. Improving the benefit experience will be crucial in delivering against new employee expectations.

With perceptions about what’s important changing so quickly, consumers, employees and employers value different things than before. As it should, this will drive a rethink of the benefits employers offer to employees.

To read the 2020–2021 Global Talent Trends Study, visit www.mercer.com/global-talent-trends.

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