Adapting Your Employer Sponsored Benefit and Program Strategies Amid COVID-19
By Paul J. Brooks
Most business owners and leaders find themselves in uncharted waters as they attempt to rebuild their businesses and teams from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the countless challenges they face will be the need to reinvent many previously normal workplace duties, policies and procedures as they incorporate social distancing, face masks, sanitizing processes other health and safety concerns into regular business operations.
Additionally, the pandemic has taken a financial toll on both individuals and business owners, which will surely affect their planning and decision making. A wide variety of matters will need to be reconsidered, including organizational provided health, dental and vision insurances, life and disability coverages, 401k benefits, to name a few.
While no one believes these challenges will be overcome easily or quickly, it is the steadfast mission of Brooks Financial Group, Inc. (BFG), as servant leaders and advisors, to find solutions to the most difficult roadblocks and in order to assist our private corporate client relationships in providing meaningful benefit solutions.
Some may say a good deal of these workplace modifications were already in process and the pandemic simply accelerated their proliferation and acceptance. Other necessary changes may not have been as visible before COVID arrived. In any event, it's probably safe to say that the workplace of tomorrow will look very different from the traditional workplace we've all been used to in the years leading up to this time.
BFG continues to provide the leadership and guidance. We work to educate our private corporate relationships, organizational leaders, their management and teams and make recommendations that will assist them in reshaping their 'Matters of Importance' to better position themselves with the evolving expectations and new trends as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What BFG Has Observed and Learned
As society struggled to adapt to the changing realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, modifications were made to many aspects of everyday life that will most likely become to some degree, "the new norm". As it relates to employers and their workforce, the increased level of remote work and the added reliance on technology and online communications will surely be two of the more significant "shapers" of future business trends.
Obviously, neither of these two developments-working remotely and the deeper reliance on technology to support it- represent new concepts. Rather, the necessity to shelter-in-place during the pandemic served to hasten a more widespread acceptance of both practices in businesses of all sizes. While we know the use of technology in business operations is sure to grow going forward, the extent to which employees are permitted to work from home as restrictions are eased, remains to be seen.
At the very least, the future of many business operations will need to provide a flexible work environment. For employees with children at home, those taking care of elderly parents, and many others, the ability to work from home could ease some of their pressures and allow for greater personalization of scheduling. Businesses could save on expenses by downsizing office square footage and employees could save on commuting expenses and more. For sure, this will provide a positive impact and cultural shift to both organizations and their team members' families.
There are other influences that will impact businesses/business owners in the coming months and years. The loss of revenue that many firms have experienced along with the impact the pandemic has had on the physical and financial health of employees will exert significant pressure on many decisions that will be made by both employers and their team members.
Concern for the risk of disease contraction continues to weigh on everyone's mind and heart, impacting countless facets of everyday lives-both at home and at the workplace. And, the need for safety precautions brought on by the pandemic will likely remain in place long after the virus is gone. Social distancing, spatial awareness, personal and workplace sanitizing, among others, will require amendments to administrative practices and procedures, additional communication methods and new client contact options that have seldom been seen on such a permanent basis before now. This will also have a trickle-down effect on policy compliance of current and newly passed legislation under ACA, EEOC, DOL, FLSA and more.
In short, we are only beginning to understand the many pandemic-related influences that will shape the future of our community and organizational realities. Although employers might not rank their current benefit programs/program offerings among their greatest concerns as they look to re-establish operations, the reality is that the pandemic has powerfully reshaped many aspects of how the workforce thinks, the workplace environment and how people access their many employer sponsored benefits and programs.
The Financial Considerations
Most businesses have been/are being financially impacted as a result of COVID-19 and face a tough road ahead. The combination of revenue loss due to office closures and lost customer base, coupled with other unexpected pandemic related expenses are forcing organizations to make tough financial decisions. One area they will inevitably focus on will be the expenses related to their comprehensive benefit packages.
During the 2007-2009 recession, many employers directed their cost-cutting measures at shifting health care costs to their employees through increased premium contribution strategies and/or a high deductible health benefit program. At this point, with individuals already further straddled with COVID-19 related financial impacts, any further burden put on employees has the potential to backfire, resulting in lost talent.
For our BFG Corporate Advisory Team, these challenging times require greater creative focus and new strategies to accomplish the 'What's Important' objectives as defined during our discovery meetings with our private corporate client relationships. By utilizing our many resources and technologies while integrating data concentrated on benefit objectives and budgets, employee demographics and any utilization data available, BFG will develop a long-term benefit strategy to meet our clients' needs.
Most likely, organizations and their leaders, will continue to provide an adequate and comprehensive benefits package, though they may find employees more willing to consider new plan options or alternative means of seeking health care advice.
The Related and Possible Premium Impact
While most industry professionals would agree the COVID-19 pandemic will impact health insurance premiums, there is just not enough data to suggest how significant any increases will.
As mentioned previously, BFG is recommending caution in regards to passing along any benefit premium increases to employees during this time. While we fully understand bearing any additional costs for benefit programs may place extra burden on the organization's bottom line in the short-term, by looking at the long-term picture, there might be some considerations to explore:
- Although many organizations have been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 crisis, many employees have suffered even more. In addition to the strain on their personal finances, many have also felt the pandemic's effects in the form of anxiety, stress, fear, illness and possibly even the death of loved ones.
- Higher health insurance costs or increased deductibles and copays, especially during a time when their financial situation may already be compromised, could lead employees and their covered dependents to skip preventive healthcare or necessary medical procedures. This, in turn, can have significant impacts on the employer, both in terms of productivity loss and higher healthcare costs down the road if and when any untreated medical conditions worsen.
- Many contemporary studies show that employee well-being is stronger when workers are engaged in a pro-healthcare office environment. Passing on premium increases or raising cost-sharing through copays and deductibles can sabotage the level of employee engagement and can lead to a reduced level of employee satisfaction and greater employee absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover, all of which can impact the employer's bottom line.
In the end, most employees will be very appreciative that their employers chose to treat them well during this time.
Employers should consider the benefits programs, increased employee productivity, enhanced loyalty and improved morale before deciding on whether they should pass on any COVID-19 related increases to their workforce. BFG advises, if budget provides, consider a 'fringe' COVID benefit tailored to your team members' needs.
The Value of Telehealth Services and Virtual Visits Shines Bright
Telemedicine and Virtual Visits have been around for some time but with generally low levels of acceptance. As a result of COVID-19 precautionary measures, however, large numbers of patients were instructed to connect with their providers via electronic means instead of physically visiting a hospital, clinic or physician's office. The surge in use of telehealth services and virtual visits will likely usher in a period of greater acceptance and widespread utilization.
Employees who have utilized telehealth services have generally become comfortable with the practice and their interest should provide enough reason for providers to expand access to more specialties within our health care system. Mental health providers were among the first to offer virtual services and we have recently we have even noticed a few carriers offering dental virtual visits.
But there are additional benefits of Telehealth services come with a number of benefits. Patient safety is achieved by keeping individuals out of the physical space previously shared with other people, which is therefore lessening the risk of disease transmission. Costs are generally lower for telehealth services, efficiency of care can be increased, patients may be more apt to schedule virtual appointments in order to get the care they require, and physicians can expand their patient base by caring for persons unable or unwilling to travel to the physical location.
It is expected that carriers and vendors will continue to expand coverage of telehealth programs, allowing employers to incorporate coverage through group health insurance plans, wellness programs and voluntary benefit offerings.
BFG Continues to Leverage Technology for Administrative Efficiency and Ease for Our Corporate Private Client Relationships
With so many more employees working in a remote fashion, the ability for our private corporate client relationships and their teams to electronically access critical benefit, HR and compliance information through our BFG private and secured technology platform, has never been greater.
For BFG's existing corporate relationships and those we have onboarded in 2020, our leadership and technology become an invaluable part of their organization's employee benefit program and HR arena.
BFG's integrated platform continues to deliver best-in-class technology in the areas of benefit election and enrollment, eligibility management, employee communication and education, compliance, HR/HCM information, consolidated invoicing and 24/7 secured access. BFG's technology platform also provides both direct and indirect savings to our corporate relationships.
As always, please feel free to reach out to your BFG Corporate Benefits Advisors or Relationship Managers with any questions or guidance you may seek.
If you feel this information and our leadership would benefit others in your circles, please feel free to share it with them and recommend they contact us to receive these communications directly.
We hope you and your families are well, safe & mindful.
The Brooks Financial Group Team