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Easing Employee Stress During Trying Times

Each year, employers have to reimagine how to educate employees about their benefits offerings, but this year is unlike any other.

With compounding layers of difficulty caused by the pandemic, rising financial instability, questions surrounding the upcoming presidential election, and the impending court case over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employees are more stressed than ever. It’s up to employers to try to elevate the human experience in a way that eases this mounting stress and ensures a positive working environment in spite of external forces.

Talking to Employees About Stressful Current Events

Nearly seven in ten employees indicated in a survey by mental health provider Ginger that the pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career, which has aligned with stark increases in new prescriptions of antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications. Among those reporting stress, 62% noted losing at least one hour a day in productivity and 32% lost at least two hours a day due to COVID-19 related stress.

As an employer, while you may not have all the answers, you can explain what’s going on, how your organization is or will be responding and what your plan is for the future. Consider the following talking points:

The COVID-19 Pandemic

By now, employees are likely familiar with how your organization is responding to the pandemic. But take this opportunity as you head into enrollment season to highlight any new benefits you’re adding to help support employees during these times. Provide clear communication about any changes you may be making to your plans and specifically draw attention to perks and benefits that align with mental health and financial wellbeing.

Despite some companies reducing costs through furloughs, pay cuts and even reductions to 401(k) matching contributions, many employers are actually enhancing some benefits to respond to the growing stress reported by their employees.

There are ways to do this at low or no cost to your organization. Make sure you’re taking advantage of the embedded programs and low-cost offerings that your carriers and vendors are making available, for example. Here are some other low-cost perks you may consider offering your employees to alleviate stress and support their mental health.

  • Broaden wellbeing programs and offerings.
  • Add supplemental mental health resources.
  • Offer a flexible work schedule to working parents.
  • Expand PTO offerings.
  • Pivot existing perks into remote-friendly ones.
  • Since in-office snacks, drinks and occasional catered meals are at a standstill, companies are instead relying on delivery services. For example, some employers are offering a monthly lunch for their team members through Uber Eats and sending them snack boxes.
  • Tap into the financial wellness tools and resources already available to you through your 401k provider.
  • Check-in with your insurance carrier on how they’re covering COVID-19 testing and claims and share this information with your team clearly and often to reduce any stress around their ability to afford testing.

By taking positive actions around employee health and wellbeing, and effectively communicating these perks, employers are showing they value the employee experience. That investment is likely to build loyalty, improve engagement and ease employee stress.

The 2020 Presidential Election

As with past elections, health care is a top issue for incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. While both are stating that they want to lower health care costs, each of their respective platforms could mean changes for Americans.

As such, it’s important for you to learn more about where each candidate stands, so you can better understand and prepare for how this election could impact the employee benefits industry and your business. The OneDigital 2020 Election Hub is a great place to start when comparing candidates’ healthcare platforms.

Be sure to reassure employees that any changes to employee benefits resulting from the election will be communicated as they arise.

ACA Litigation

In late August 2020, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of the ACA starting on Nov. 10, 2020. This will be the third time the Supreme Court has reviewed the ACA’s constitutionality. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA on the basis that the individual mandate is a valid tax. In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA’s health insurance exchange subsidies.

In addition, it’s important to note and communicate to employees that a verdict on the upcoming November case is not expected to come this year but rather during the spring of 2021. You can also explain to employees that, while this legal challenge is pending, all existing ACA provisions will continue to be applicable and enforced. This challenge does not impact Exchange enrollment, the ACA’s employer shared responsibility (pay or play) penalties and related reporting requirements, or any other applicable ACA requirement.

Best Practices for Communication

Employers spend nearly a third of an employee’s total compensation on benefits and yet, many employers don’t properly educate on the value of those benefits. To truly value the benefit, an employee must understand the benefit being offered to them, and in a time when employees are looking for guidance wherever they can find it, take the time this year to thoughtfully communicate to your team. You can help ease anxieties by taking the following actions:

  • Acknowledge concerns and reassure employees of their value to the company and the company’s desire to keep them healthy and supported.
  • Provide as much information as possible about the pandemic, the election and the ACA litigation and provide information about how each of these may affect employees’ benefits, if applicable.
  • Highlight voluntary employee benefits that employees might not know about to help relieve financial stress or preserve their mental wellbeing.
  • Communicate the future of the business with employees often—in meetings, on the company intranet site, in newsletters, etc.
  • Survey employees to see what health and wellness benefits they’re interested in seeing for the coming year.
  • While open enrollment is a great opportunity to communicate benefits offerings, this cannot be the only time you’re highlighting your benefits. Consistent, year-round communication around benefits is key.
  • Most importantly, be empathetic in your communication, as each employee’s situation may be different.

If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that organizations and leaders are stepping up in critical areas to foster a healthy workplace. Creating an open, supportive and communicative culture where leadership is actively taking steps to reduce employee stress will go a long way, especially during this trying time.