May 12

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How Employee Benefits Will Fit Into The Post-COVID World

We will all have to adjust to very divergent views on how to handle the new norms in a post-COVID world. We are entering the era of frugality, where a lot remains uncertain and we have just started to make the alterations to this new life. Our sense of normalcy and security has forever been altered. We are all faced with a lot of pending question marks, and one of them being, how we will change health benefit plans to accurately protect the rapidly evolving needs of our working class.

Will this be the end of the modern office as we know it?

With the recent news of One Eleven permanently closing their operations, coupled with the 2% commercial vacancy rate in Toronto that is projected to soar, the modern workplace that long served us has already been permanently altered. When and how we will safely return to office environments will depend on a myriad of decisions, and expectations will shift on the work from home model.

Working remotely will take off

Working remotely has always been a sensitive topic for many businesses that subscribe to the traditional frame of working – but the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new decentralized way of thinking for organizations to look at the model in which they work.

One of the long standing arguments with remote work has been that it’s hard to know who is in front of the computer at all times. Now that we are forced to work from home, employers are now thinking in terms of the value output, rather than the hours logged, and letting people be flexible with their hours. Employers can help employees by focusing on output instead of trading hours for pay – especially for employees who are at home with children or other dependants.

It’s also important to consider employees who don’t have family with whom they can isolate and may be dealing with loneliness. So not only will this brave new workforce take flight, but having the necessary resources from companies to support their workers in this new path will start to unfold even more.

Adding critical illness, disability and life insurance to plans

Life insurance is increasingly top of mind now. Prolonged periods of stress are likely to result in increased long-term disability claims once the peak of the pandemic subsides. Since the pandemic, we have seen increases in short-term disability and life claims, and the longer this goes on, we could be in for a landslide on short-term disability and long-term disability claims. Watch for this to carve out a place in the next chapter of health benefits.

Building employee resiliency through plan levers

Employees are facing a myriad of stressors right now, and many are struggling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health. Morneau Shepell Ltd.’s latest monthly mental-health index has reached a new low of 63, which is rather quite startling.

Plan sponsors will likely turn to the next phase of building employees’ coping and resiliency skills and give them access to resources to help them with coping mechanisms. Through online resources, mindfulness content and virtual healthcare will all empower the prevention model and help them deal with the ongoing volatility. 

There will be a spike in mental health flexibility

As Canadians start to seek treatment and advice from primary care providers online, this will be the final push to fully embrace the virtual health care model. The explosion of internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy programs will address the many pandemic-related anxieties.

Certain stressors that are related to caring for family members, dealing with information overload, social isolation, stress management and financial uncertainty all have a compounded effect towards Canadians’ mental health. This will spur the need for greater mental health flexibility within plans, and has likely exposed the gaps and neglect towards mental health spend in the past.

Telehealth is growing in popularity – but are they all created equally?

With the entire world shifting to an online model, the federal government recently announced they will spend more than $240 million to make it easier for mental health care and other medical services to take place online.

One of the rising issues is that not all platforms are created equal, and doctors that aren’t affiliated with certain telehealth platforms can actually lose money when they have a patient go somewhere outside of their network. So, if you use a certain platform, your doctor can actually get penalized and lose money. It might not seem like a big issue for most people, but if you constantly go to an online virtual platform that doesn’t work with your doctor and you’re in an industry that requires you to get medicals on a semi annual basis – the doctor either doesn’t have all of your medical history, or your regular physician might stop working with you.

Whether it’s a lack of support for technological infrastructure, poor compensation for telemedicine or concerns for patient privacy, there continues to be major barriers slowing this widespread adaption and a playing field that isn’t level for all doctors involved.

We have never faced such panic and disruption on this scale. And as we enter the new threshold where sponsors are evaluating plan features on what will actually deliver the highest value for employees, and which will allow them to stay on budget, there will inevitably be some tough decisions to be made on which sections will represent and serve the modern workforce in this brave new world going forward.

About the author 

Chris Gory

Chris Gory is the founder of Orchard Benefits (formerly Insurance Portfolio Financial Services Inc.), a brokerage launched in 1999 that helps companies build the best benefits programs for their employees. Chris is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and works with over 60 startup companies including Wattpad, 500px, and VarageSale. He is an advisor at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone and at the OneEleven startup hub, and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and he's been a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, since 2012.


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