The stresses of the pandemic took a mental and physical toll on the nation’s workers, data across industries indicates. Now, as corporate America reimagines its approach to providing employee benefit programs, insight from benefits experts reveals a heightened focus on employee health and well-being in 2021.

Seventy-eight percent of human resources (HR) and benefits experts across industries ranked “improving employee health and well-being” as a significantly higher priority in 2020 than in 2019, an Artemis Health survey shows. Six in 10 say it’s their top benefits goal for the year ahead—double the number of benefits experts who gave it their top ranking in 2019.

“Increasing employee productivity,” which occupied the top stop in 2019, slid to the No. 3 spot in the latest survey.

The results make us wonder: Is corporate America becoming more caring?

Signs of a “Caring Revolution” in Corporate America

COVID-19 changed everything for corporate America, including its approach to employee benefits strategy. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on American adults, and benefits teams are concerned about stress, childcare challenges, access to mental healthcare, and delayed care. In this environment, we’re seeing companies put whole-person health over productivity, with an emphasis on benefits programs that help safeguard employees’ physical and mental health. This is true even in companies that have suffered financial loss or reductions in their workforce during the pandemic, according to survey respondents. One shared: 

We have had to step our initiatives back a bit with COVID-19, but at our heart remains the health of our employees.”

Determining the right areas of focus for their employee populations is a big challenge for company executives. While almost all organizations gather data from health carriers, prescription benefit managers, and other programs to meet the unique needs of their staff, most don’t know what to do with it, according to the benefits leader survey. More than half don’t trust the data, relying on the data providers to assure them that it’s credible. Benefits leaders also struggle to draw meaningful conclusions from the data that could help them design benefits that meet employees’ holistic health needs. These organizations need tools that help surface the right information at the right time to make key benefits decisions.

With so much at stake, how can organizations turn concern for employees’ health and well-being into action? Innovative employers and advisors take action in three ways.

Find the stories in your data that could make a difference for employee health. 

Well-designed benefits programs can help organizations measure the effects of COVID-19 on their members. They can also empower employees to overcome feelings of isolation, sleep disruptions and anxiety related to the pandemic. But while benefits leaders have a treasure trove of data at their disposal—from claims data to health assessments to risk scores—piecing together a story from the data remains challenging.

In 2021, benefits leaders can no longer act on a hunch in delivering highly compassionate, timely benefits offerings. To direct the right health interventions to the right employees—and pull back on offerings that aren’t providing valuecompanies must invest in data partnerships to make data-driven decisions. For some companies, this may include solutions that aggregate data from many sources, provide a holistic view, and utilize data enhancements that alert benefits teams to emerging risks. For others, this might mean partnerships with analytic experts who are skilled at combing through disjointed sources of data to pinpoint individuals or populations who would benefit from specific health services or interventions. 

Many employers choose a combination of a benefits analytics solution and a trusted advisor to make the data connections they need to take action. 

Ramp up telehealth access and education.

Virtual care options exploded in popularity in 2020, and employees see them as a convenient way to limit their exposure to the virus. They also increase access to care—including behavioral health—and have the potential to reduce healthcare costs. Yet barriers to the use of telehealth remain, from lack of internet connectivity to uncertainty around how to schedule a telehealth appointment to uneasiness in switching to virtual appointments for care. With mental health a top-of-mind concern for employers, removing obstacles to swift, compassionate care will be essential to improving employee health and well-being and reducing risk.

That’s why leading employers are revving up education on the types of telehealth offerings that are available for employees and their dependents and how to connect with telehealth providers. They also are partnering with payers to get the word out. As companies remain concerned about the impact of the pandemic on employees who are isolated, under stress, struggling with anxiety, or coping with the pressures of remote schooling, proactively teaching employees to take advantage of telehealth could strengthen employee health and resilience.

Look for ways to stay ahead of the curve on benefits offerings—even during the pandemic.

While the percentage of benefits leaders who rate their benefits program as being “ahead of the curve” is low—just 30%, according to the benefits leader survey—it’s also growing, up 12% from a year ago. This confidence boost suggests that there’s nothing quite like a crisis to bring people together, clarify priorities, and galvanize action. On the other hand, this is an area where large companies hold an advantage. These organizations are more likely to have a team of benefits experts, rather than just one or two professionals. They also tend to have more resources at their disposal, including dedicated benefits consultants and broker partners to help them with benefits strategy, planning, and data analytics. As a result, larger companies are more likely to rate their benefits programs as “ahead of the curve,” and smaller companies are more apt to say they are “falling behind.” Organizations that leverage third-party expertise for benefits analytics also were more likely to rate themselves as ahead of the curve.

But lack of size doesn’t have to hold mid-sized employers back when it comes to offering compassionate, next-level benefits to employees. To close the gap in performance, companies can focus on competitive differentiators such as:

  • Offering greater choice in health plans for employees
  • Using data analytics to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of all benefits programs (from health coverage to well-being solutions)
  • Designing new, more innovative benefits offerings and programs
  • Collaborating with clinical experts to plan interventions and ensure existing programs are working for members
  • Revamping member communications strategies to ensure eligible members know about all the options available to them
  • Seeking employee feedback—balanced with data—on benefits programs that matter to them 
  • Expanding affordable care options for employees and their families
  • Leveraging third-party expertise to make key benefits decisions and run their programs

By crafting holistic employee benefits programs that are informed by data and inspired by the desire to make a difference, companies will be better positioned to drive improved health and satisfaction. That’s an approach that not only demonstrates caring from corporate America, but also strengthens companies’ ability to compete in 2021 and beyond.