Willis Towers Watson, Korn Ferry, and JD Powers surveyed employers across industries about how their health, wellness, and paid time off benefits strategies have changed during the pandemic.

These changes are critical to solving a range of challenges that have emerged for employees, whether they’re working remotely or in essential roles in person. But are they here to stay beyond COVID-19?

We’ve outlined the top changes surveys reported, and weigh in on whether employers will leverage these approaches into their long-term strategies, too.

The change: Extended work-from-home policies

The pandemic has driven nearly two-thirds of American employees to remote working. Prior to the pandemic, just 29% of employees reported that they worked from home at least some of the time.

Here to stay? Yes, especially for tech-based companies

Three in five workers currently on-the-job from home report that they would like to continue with their current setup after the pandemic. In a survey of CFOs, 74% responded that they will transition at least 5% of their workforces to be permanently remote.

From the employer perspective, as long as productivity remains high with a remote workforce, reducing office space could be one way to save costs during a challenging economic time.

Tech-based companies in particular are well positioned to shift to permanent work from home arrangements. Twitter, for one, announced that employees may now work from home “forever.”

To adapt, employers may pivot to offering perks that are specific to working from home, like a stipend for sprucing up your home office. Remote work wellness programs will also be critical to supporting both the physical and mental health of employees without in-person engagement.

The change: Employers are offering more digital health options

Under social distancing guidelines, patients can’t access their regular care in person. Telemedicine and other remote health services have stepped in to close the gap. More than three in four (77%) of employers are offering or expanding access to virtual mental health services, and 60% are offering virtual solutions for physical health according to Willis Towers Watson. An additional 19% are considering adding these services.

Here to stay? Yes

Prior studies already found that perks like telemedicine access are popular. In one survey, offering telemedicine was associated with a 39-point increase in satisfaction for health plan members. Communicating telemedicine benefits has always been a challenge. But since remote care has been the only option for non-emergencies for many, employees are likely to be more aware of these benefits now.

“I expect that beyond the epidemic, we will see telemedicine be used more readily by providers and members,” Jason Blomquist, Senior Vice President, Employee Benefits at Assurance, told Fern Health. “Employers are very interested in the cost savings that telehealth provides, and are asking for increased communication campaigns, ways to make the programs easier to use, and to design the programs to provide savings first to the employee, and then to the employer.”

Telemedicine will continue to be important to closing care gaps after restrictions begin to lift. Chances are, care gaps will continue to exist even as governments lift restrictions. A buildup in need for services will lead to wait lists and further delays in care.

For example, the Orthopedic Times predicts that in Q4, back pain surgeries will be at 120% their normal volume. Backlogs could push treatments into next year. Musculoskeletal employer programs like Fern can help employees address back pain issues early on, before symptoms get worse. Remote mental health care has also been critical throughout this stressful time.

The change: Updates to PTO and vacation policies

Employees may be holding on to PTO days in the hope that they’ll be able to take a non socially-distanced vacation in the fall or at the end of the year. With an unpredictable virus, it’s difficult to make plans even several months in advance. To help, 24% of employers are planning to increase carryover limits. Sixteen percent already require employees to take PTO or vacation time to reduce end-of-year buildup, and 22% are planning or considering this requirement.

PTO donation and pooling programs are another approach to help fellow employees who may need additional time off to care for sick relatives. Twelve percent of employers surveyed are allowed donations to other employees, and 15% are planning or considering a donation program.

Here to stay? Probably not

Paid time off policies should remain flexible for the foreseeable future. Post-pandemic, PTO and vacation policies are more likely to return to normal compared with the other changes on this list.

The change: Mobile access to benefits information

Benefits communication has also changed during the pandemic. Instead of hosting benefits fairs or passing out folders, benefits communication has shifted entirely online or to outsourced call centers.

Here to stay? Yes

“We see our clients preparing for a more decentralized work environment, with more people working remotely on a regular basis,” said Blomquist. “All communications need to be provided digitally and through mobile.”

He mentioned that his clients are looking for mobile solutions that provide access to employee benefits in a convenient format. Call centers to address frequently-asked-questions about benefits have also increased in popularity, he said.

“Outsourcing call center enrollment is easier for HR teams, and more personalized to address members specific needs, and will be here to stay in the long run,” said Blomquist.

The change: For retail workers, increased pay and benefits

During COVID-19, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. At the same time, those working in essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, have been busier than ever.

A survey from consulting firm Korn Ferry found that 43% of essential retailer respondents have increased hourly pay to encourage retention and say thank you. Seventeen percent are offering a bonus to be paid into the future, and 22% are offering both increased pay and a bonus.

Here to stay? Probably not

Short-term bonuses and boosts in pay are tied directly to the current challenging climate, so they will most likely end post-pandemic. However, employees may be more likely to stick around with employers that supported them during challenging times.

Enhancing healthcare and wellness benefits during this difficult time is critical. Looking to give employees access to back pain options? Fern Health is here to help. Get in touch using the form below to learn more about our program.

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