In a recent report, the Lyra State of Mental Health Survey, polled more than 1,000 workers and more than 250 benefits leaders and found that 84% of workers said “robust and comprehensive” mental health benefits were an important factor when considering a new job. Plus, 61% of benefits leaders believed that an employer has a responsibility for protecting the mental health of employees.
Andrea Meyer, director of benefits at Worksmart Systems, told me that applicants rank the quality of an employer’s benefits as one of their top concerns when scrolling open positions. “Benefits act as additional compensation on top of an employee’s paycheck,” she says. “But the cultural value of employer benefits goes far beyond a price tag, as evidenced by how benefits adapt alongside societal change.”
Meyer uses pandemic-era benefits as an example, noting that hybrid and fully remote workforces overwhelmingly enjoyed greater access to mental health resources during the Covid-19 lockdown in response to concerns over mental wellness and shifting work-life balance. She cites other common benefit upgrades as flexible PTO and allowing working parents to care for their at-home children during work hours.
Now that employees’ day-to-day lives are slowly returning to pre-pandemic “normal,” Meyer points out that this has given employers the opportunity to take a step back and create new benefits packages that reflect the needs and wants of a post-pandemic workforce. “After all,” she points out, “modern benefits go beyond standard 401(k) plans and healthcare offerings. In fact, benefits can make or break employees’ sense of belonging on the job.” Meyer suggests four changes employers can introduce to benefits packages to create a sense of belonging in the workplace and improve company culture in the New Year.
# 1. Healthcare Remains A Priority, Though It Looks Different Now
“With the price of pharmaceuticals rising, it’s no surprise healthcare has stood the test of time as the most important benefit employers can offer,” Meyer notes. “But since the pandemic, the resources that fall under the umbrella of healthcare have started to change. Along with the standard medical, dental and optical benefits, employees are beginning to expect mental health-related coverage from their employers.”
Although 20% of Americans live with a mental illness, Meyer emphasizes that struggles with mental health are often stigmatized, particularly while on the job. She also acknowledges that the weight of the pandemic—which left many employees battling prolonged isolation from friends and co-workers—diminished that stigma as employees became more comfortable discussing their workplace experiences. “This progress should be celebrated and continued,” she believes. “Employers should listen to their employees and focus on creating a culture of acceptance, just as they did during the pandemic. The first step on that journey is providing employees with a comprehensive healthcare package that addresses physical and mental health needs.”
# 2. Employees Crave Financial Literacy
Meyer cites money as the number one stressor among all demographics and age groups in the United States. “Financial stress is an incredibly common distractor at work and one that employees of all backgrounds and ages likely experience,” she stresses. “This is problematic because when employees are stressed about money issues, their productivity levels and sense of belonging plummet.”
According to Meyer,“Most employers offer standard financial benefits, such as a 401(k) plan that may include an employer match guarantee up to a certain percentage. This is a great option for employers looking to provide their employees with long-term financial wellness. However, employers shouldn’t stop there. The provision of top of the line PTO benefits can also help to alleviate stress, financial and otherwise, thereby improving employee sentiment and wellness on the job.”
Many employees also seek a better awareness and understanding of smart saving measures, Meyer says. “Some companies have listened to their employees and implemented optional financial literacy programs to understand how to make the best use of their paycheck, as well as unrelated streams of income,” she adds. “Financial literacy programs don’t need to be a timesuck. There are many free options available online that HR departments can vet and share, along with paid options available through most 401(k) providers.”
# 3. Flexible Working Arrangements May Be Here To Stay
“Today, the nine-to-five office job looks much different than it did before the pandemic,” Meyer states. “For decades, most—if not all—employees were expected to arrive at the office by nine a.m. dressed in business attire. Now, the American workforce craves workplace flexibility. According to McKinsey, 87% of Americans want to work in a flexible environment that allows for work in an office setting as well as virtually.”
She insists that companies focused on creating a sense of belonging must start listening to employees’ needs. Balancing those requests with employer needs is essential, but she acknowledges they can be tricky. “The HR department can help by liaising between upper management and employees to create guidelines that satisfy both parties,” she suggests. “For many organizations, this compromise may lead to a hybrid work environment, allowing employees to spend a few days at home and a few days in the office. Hybrid workplaces permit employees to determine how much time they spend in a traditional office setting. These policies promote a better sense of belonging among fully remote and fully in-person employees by allowing freedom.”
# 4. How To Capitalize On New And Improved Benefits
Adding mental health coverage, teaching financial literacy and creating a hybrid working arrangement are all great initiatives to foster a sense of true belonging among employees, Meyer told me, but those benefits cannot help if employees are unaware of their existence. She mentioned that educating employees on what benefits are available can ensure they get the most out of their offerings. “When any changes are made to benefit plans, it’s important for HR professionals to have conversations with current employees and allow time for questions to be answered,” she advises, “When hiring new employees, block out time in their onboarding to review offered benefits, and a day or so later, provide a time to take questions.”
Employees feel a sense of purpose and belonging when they’re listened to and accommodated, Meyer explains, although every company will be different and each employee will seek different offerings, but general provisions for mental health, financial literacy and flexible working arrangements are all crucial starting places. She stresses that, “Offering a balance between modern and standard benefits is vital to a company’s growth,” but cautions, “To do this, employers need to listen to the needs of their employees. Take their ideas and concerns to heart and act on them in a way that benefits them, sooner rather than later.”