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April 2nd Is National Employee Benefits Day – And Why It Matters

National Employee Benefits Day was created in 2004 and is celebrated annually each April in the United States and Canada.
The value of offering benefits coverage to staff is getting so important that it merits its own day. It is fascinating to see this growing movement that has stretched employer wellness programs to encompass all areas of total well-being: physical, mental, financial, community and work.

People are really thinking big picture, total compensation and staff and how benefits is just one component to attract and retain mentally and physically healthy staff.

How far everything has come since 2004

Benefits plans have come a long way, and it certainly wasn’t what it was back in 2004.

Back then, people would start to look at getting coverage when they had at least 8-10 staff, now they’re looking at getting benefits coverage when they’re 3-5 staff. Founders are very aware that they need this coverage from day one, just because of how competitive it is within the startup space. From the employer’s perspective, if you can’t retain talent for the long-term, that means high employee turnover, which is costly and damages morale.

There’s definitely an awareness that wasn’t there 10-15 years ago about taking care of your staff both physically and mentally. It’s not that they just want to stick to the traditional package, they know they need to get a bit creative, because the quality of a benefits package really matters to both prospective and current employees.

You’re now seeing smaller groups and richer plans than you would have back in 2004.

Founders are proactive now more than ever

Founders are ultra-aware to the competitive nature in Toronto’s startup space to attract and retain staff. And when you couple that with a collective shift in our mentality towards mental health with powerful movements like Bell Let’s Talk, it has definitely triggered an awareness among founders that we didn’t see 10 years ago.

It’s exciting to see that we’re trending in a direction where many will broach the topic of having a comprehensive benefits package and will actually initiate the conversation and talk about how to get creative with taking care of their staff. And this is something that only as recently as a couple of years ago when they had 25-30 employees, they would just start this conversation – but now it’s a fraction of that. Founders with smaller staff are now ultra-aware of what it means to take care of their team members’ well-being and are asking all the questions around it.

Take this into consideration. I met with a startup founder recently that has four employees, and he wanted to know all about benefits for his staff. With only four employees he’s already talking about mental health, and what he can do for the mental health for his staff, and how to incorporate employee assistance programs into the mix.

People are more aware that you can’t just simply throw a benefits plan in place and that will take care of everything.

What are employees more motivated by now? 

Mental health is on top of people’s radar.

What’s interesting is that only a couple of years ago, I saw a lot of people inquiring about adding more paramedicals like acupuncture into their plans – and now I’m seeing people asking about psychotherapy. 

The mental component is top of mind now, for both plan members and employers. While people still are cognizant of the physical side, like physiotherapists, massage and dental, the mental component is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was. So that’s another reason why people need to be aware of the mental well-being of their staff, because if they have an employee who is not doing well psychologically, it’s going to impact their day-to-day performance.

How employee feedback is driving the change

There has to be the two-way conversation between employees and the plan sponsor because you have to understand what your demographics are like and what they value at their stage of life. If you have a younger demographic, you will have different wants and needs than people with young families.

  • I would get involved and talk to the staff members about the different areas to help with mental health a part of their plan – but it’s really interesting to see how open of a dialogue it is, and just how unique these types of insights are. A couple of years ago there was still that stigma attached to mental health and people were so embarrassed to talk openly about their struggles, but now the barrier isn’t there and people are very open to talking about what needs to happen, and what counselling and services they want.
  • Employee-driven conversations: I’ve seen some clients that I work with have staff that take it upon themselves to talk to their other team members about the specific needs they have. And it helps taking this raw feedback to better tailor the plan around their needs. The employees are empowered by this, and the employer loves to see that their money is being spent on things that people need.

Everyone has a best interest in making sure that the services covered within the plan are a success for everyone.