Three employee benefits trends to watch this year

Once again, a new year arrived with us all still living in a global pandemic. Cue the “rinse and repeat” jokes and “welcome to 2020 (part 3)” memes. As I help my kids grapple with online learning (again), the year so far does indeed feel like more of the same. However, how employees access their health benefits and the importance they place on them are expected to change as this year unfolds.

New research reveals that Canadians are planning to take back control of their physical and mental health in 2022. Employee benefits were identified as a key driver, yet according to the study, 26% of Canadians with benefit plans do not know how to access their benefits, 24% say the mental health support in their benefit plan is not sufficient, while 17% indicate that they aren’t even aware of what mental health resources are available to them.

Let’s recap that statistic: one in four employees don’t understand their mental health benefits or say they’re inadequate. That’s a compelling finding in a time when people need these critical supports. A commitment to providing adequate mental health supports – and communicating them effectively – will be essential in 2022. Employers who put attention on this are bound to see the rewards in the years to come. We talked more about this in our blog last November – you can read it here.

This year will also see a significant rise in the cost of living. Food prices are predicted to increase up to seven per cent according to Canada’s annual Food Price Report. It’s the biggest jump in food prices since the first report 12 years ago. Meanwhile, housing costs are becoming unattainable for more people, shortages in consumer goods will increase prices, and all of this will drive up salaries which further drive up prices. Economics is a vicious circle.

To combat this, employers will need to do more than toss employees a nominal raise. We need to focus on providing adequate compensation packages including benefits that offer adequate financial counselling and support. Group RSPs are also becoming increasingly important as a tool to recruit the best employees, encourage savings and give bonuses with tax advantages built in.

Along the lines of offering one-time bonuses for employees looking to buy their first homes, as featured in our blog last August, I’m anticipating hearing about more creative ideas from employers such as interest-free loans, providing access to discounted home repair and maintenance services, and I recently even learned of one company that is talking about building their own affordable housing to attract and keep employees.

Thirdly, I’m predicting a greater expectation amongst employees for genuine engagement in key employer decisions that affect them. As we emerge from the pandemic this year (and I’m confident we will), people will shake off two years of feeling a lack of control by ensuring they have it – and if they don’t, they’re not afraid to jump ship to a new job where they do.

Businesses can get ahead of this by building a proper employee engagement plan that collaborates with staff around the direction of the company, its values and social responsibility commitments, and how it treats its employees. People will want to be consulted when employee benefit plans are under review to ensure they have the flexibility, range of options and freedom to tailor their benefits to meet their and their family’s needs. I’m forecasting a growth in Health Spending Accounts and other benefit solutions that put more power in the hands of the users.

Whatever happens, this will certainly be an interesting year to watch. The demands on employees will continue to evolve, as will their needs and expectations – employers who understand this will thrive.

But for now, it back to virtual learning with my twins and trying my best to wrap my head around fourth grade math.  I think I’ll put another pot of coffee on first.

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