Time is running out to make the most of your employer benefits

As 2021 draws to a close, the window for using your employer’s benefits could be the same. Last year, some employers improved their offerings to support employees in the new challenges posed by the pandemic, but some workers may not be aware of the extras they are leaving on the table and they are running out of time to use them. . .

“I have clients who realize they have $ 600 in benefits to use, so they cram into five dates in December,” said Kristin Riley, registered massage therapist (RMT), who runs a private practice in Vancouver.

But with more dollars allocated to traditional perks like seeing an RMT or dietitian, the category of wellness benefits has broadened to even include self-care items like virtual art classes, books. electronics and dumbbells.

“The new ways to access virtual care won’t have had the same acceleration without the pandemic,” Ingrid Gailler, vice president of national accounts benefits consulting at Hub International, said in a telephone interview.

“What has also been interesting is the rise in men,” she said. “Virtual [counselling] is easier for certain sectors of the population. The stigma has essentially disappeared.

She said the challenge now is to integrate the different mediums on one platform. Hub International service companies with at least 100 employees in various sectors and having set up a “care concierge” for a year at the request of its customers. Employees can access a “live care advocate” who directs them to employee assistance programs, telemedicine or fitness apps.

Gailler says a tight job market has forced his clients and prospects to be more creative in how they deliver benefits.

“The competition is fierce, so employers need to focus on how to differentiate themselves,” she said.

This includes companies like 3M Canada which have had a comprehensive wellness program since 2014. Winner of 2021 Workplace Benefits awards, 3M’s program includes rewarding employees for taking preventative measures for their health. Employees can earn points for watching a video or reading infographics (on topics like patience and resilience) that turn into dollars that can be spent on vitamins, gym memberships, or running shoes.

The Calm meditation app is popular among 1,900 3M employees across the country, according to Jackie McLennan, Benefits Specialist at 3M Canada. Employees can register for free and access relaxation activities ranging from music to stories and sleep tips.

“We were ahead of the game even before the pandemic hit,” McLennan said in a telephone interview. “We have remained competitive.

The emphasis on non-cash benefits as a way to keep employees happy and mentally healthy in uncertain times is reflected in an RBC Insurance poll in October, which found 68 percent of Canadians would take a job with good benefits rather than another job that pays off. Following.

“We are bracing for the likelihood that there will be more of this trend,” said Julie Gaudry, group benefits manager at RBC Insurance, in a telephone interview. This year, almost half of its new long-term disability claims for young Canadians (aged 18-35) were related to mental health, an important consideration for employers whose younger staff represent. a growing proportion of their workforce.

Canadian insurers paid $ 420 million in psychology claims to support mental health in 2020, a 24% increase from 2019, according to data from the Medicines Association of Canada .

“With the recent broader trend of people leaving their jobs because of job dissatisfaction, companies need to consider the value of benefits to better support the mental and financial health of employees,” Gaudry added. “The health and wellness services provided by digital are likely to stay. “

The choice and variety of media is critical for multinational e-commerce company, Shopify Inc., which provides a stipend of $ 2,200 (or local equivalent) to each employee to support a remote work environment first. .

“Whether it’s ergonomic home office equipment, grocery delivery costs, childcare assistance, we’ve built this offering with flexibility,” said Chivon John, Global Specialist wellbeing at Shopify, in an email interview. “Our goal is to provide an environment where employees are seen, valued and heard [and providing] a holistic approach to support employee well-being throughout the year.

Even before the pandemic, Shopify expanded its mental health support coverage for Canadian employees by adding $ 2,500 for paramedic coverage for mental health treatments and expanded the list of eligible practitioners.

Companies are recalibrating existing benefit plans to also reflect the current movement for diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Gailler. “The carriers have product offerings like optional life insurance that doesn’t affect whether you are male or female, hormone therapy and age support,” he said. she declared.

Shopify, for example, added trauma-focused initiatives for therapist-led support groups to tackle issues such as pandemic management, racism, and intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous communities.

Gailler noted that while some benefits may be postponed until next year depending on your employer’s plan, traditional group benefits like paramedical services will most often have a calendar year limit.

For RMTs like Riley who are dealing with an overflow of bookings this time of year, she advises clients to use their benefits strategically and take care of themselves.

“People think that if you don’t use [health benefits], you lose it, but the benefits accrue to you all year round, ”Riley said. “Use it, don’t overdo it. “

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Richard V. Johnson