Paul Andrews

Paul Andrews

Global Benefits Director

After speaking to various organisations about their benefits, it’s become very clear that employee needs have changed during the pandemic, and so must the benefits employers are providing. Depending on where in the world they have their workforce, companies have adapted to this change in a variety of ways.

Both to ease financial burdens and offer some choice, some employers have allowed employees to review their selection mid-year so that things like commuter tickets, car parking and travel insurance can either be removed to free up cash, or replaced with more relevant options. However, deciding what is relevant now and balancing this with possible changes to come is no easy task.

Changes to medical insurance benefits

Take medical insurance, for example, as one of several benefits being questioned by both employers and employees at present. With restrictions on treatment in both the private and the public sector, there is little opportunity to use the medical insurance plan. That said, when restrictions are lifted there is likely to be a surge in medical treatment – especially non-urgent operations – and at that point, medical insurance will be significant to those covered and in need. The same can be said for dental and similar health-style benefits like health screening. While we wouldn’t advise that they are removed, there is an opportunity to review the plan in place to explore cost savings and ensure that it is relevant.

In its place, employers have looked to balance long-term necessity with employees’ short-term needs. Naturally, there has been a focus on wellbeing and benefits that make life easier and/or provide some form of social activity.

Employee Assistance Programmes

We have seen that Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) have really proved their worth during the last few months. While these can be included within medical or disability plans, many organisations have, where possible, rolled out either a global solution or one that involves several providers – usually based in-region.

With cultural differences from location-to-location, an EAP needs to offer varying forms of communication with employees to serve their needs. In addition to this, the resources need to be in local languages as well as relevant to that location. Simply having an EAP in place is only the start; a good communication strategy and easy access to the details will see a higher usage rate.

Creative approaches to employee wellbeing

While an EAP can form part of a global wellbeing strategy, various organisations have started to consider a broader range of benefits to support employees during the pandemic. Where possible, local psychological support services have been procured, along with some creative approaches to opening up discussions around mental health. One HR leader in our community launched a campaign whereby the leaders within the business spoke openly about their own challenges, to show that mental health affected everyone. Others have introduced more flexible working patterns and wellbeing days (in addition to annual leave) where employees can take time out to recharge.

One piece of advice we often give is to speak to your colleagues internally to see what they are doing in other parts of the world. This maybe something you can adapt for your own region.

Wellbeing allowances and flex funds

Growing in popularity are wellbeing allowances or flex funds, which employees can use as they wish for health-related activities. In the pre-pandemic world, these could be used for gym or sports club membership, yoga and sports equipment. While some of these undoubtedly could still be used during lockdown, some employers have looked to widen the acceptable options with online classes added, bikes and in one case, garden equipment! Although not exactly for adults, some employers have opened this to things like garden play equipment such as swings to keep employees’ children happy, outdoors and occupied. Their mantra clearly being that happy children make for happy parents and happy employees!

In some parts of the world, this allowance has been used in more of a flex fund way so as to make home life more bearable during lockdown. For example, organisations in warm countries could incorporate goods like fans and air conditioning units, to make employees more comfortable.

These approaches are likely to become more widespread, with more flexibility on what wellbeing means to different people’s circumstances.

Virtual GPs and digital healthcare

Unsurprisingly, we have seen many companies either implement a Virtual GP service or at least start researching in this area. While non-urgent medical treatment has been delayed or postponed during the pandemic, employees and their families still need to speak to medical professionals. With lockdown and continued restrictions ongoing, a virtual GP service provides peace of mind and quick access to care in an increasing number of global locations. We would recommend checking with your medical insurance provider at renewal if this is something that can be added to your existing plan.

Online shopping and subscriptions

One area that is expected to keep growing over the coming months is online shopping. In the early days of the pandemic, we saw an increased interest in subscriptions, such as wine clubs and online shopping discounts portals. These continue to grow in popularity, and while some regions such as Asia and Europe lead the way, we expect many more to follow.  

Benefits need not always be high cost, and we often hear that the “smaller” but more directly impactful items are often the most valued. With wellbeing allowances and flex funds, you can let your employees choose what is right for them and their circumstances without the need to review the market, benchmark and implement a new benefit as you would with something like a medical plan. And as always, good communication is invaluable when getting feedback from your HR colleagues on the ground, as they will have the best insight into what would benefit your employees the most.

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Paul Andrews

Paul Andrews

Global Benefits Director

Paul joined Benefex from Mercer in 2019 with a wealth of international benefits experience, having worked with a large number of high-profile, multinational clients to review their approach to global talent and reward. He leads Benefex’s global benefits delivery team and he’s doing an excellent job of it, if we may say so ourselves. He is skilled in international risk assessment and management, legislative compliance, trend research, cross-border claims, and customer relationship management. AND, he can speak fluent French, mais oui!