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By Erin Young, HR Consultant at VonLehman CPA Advisory Firm

As the country continues to reopen, more employers are transitioning their workforce back into the workplace. As a result, the accompanying adjustments and attitudes help define an emerging road map – one that leads us into the new realities of workplace culture and benefits.

Paid Leave has Expanded…with Concerns

Underscored by the pandemic, the need for paid time away from work became abundantly clear.  However, even with multiple studies showing an expansion of paid medical and sick time, surveys are showing that employees believe there is a stigma associated with taking any leave to either care for a family member or themselves.  These employees reflect a percentage who say they are fearful of taking leave due to repercussions in the form of getting fired, laid off, skipped over for a promotions/raise or reduced hours.  Even after the pandemic is over, the need for medical leave is not going to go away.  Employers will continue to be challenged to provide a variety of leaves to fully support their workforce.  With this, comes the culture to encourage and support employees who need to take advantage of these benefits.

Voluntary Benefits with Financial Support

In 2020, people were faced with unimaginable situations, including the need to protect their income during circumstances out of their control.  For this reason, it is being noticed that US employees are choosing to participate in voluntary benefits such as life and disability insurance, hospital indemnity and critical illness, with many indicating these were new selections for them.  According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), with the competitive talent market, employers are shifting voluntary and supplemental benefits into a more prominent, strategic role to attract and keep employees.

Mental Health Awareness

Research has shown for years that mental health affects the productivity of workers in a variety of ways.  The signs of an employee with suffering mental health can take many forms including irritability, trouble focusing on day-to-day tasks, arriving late, leaving early, missing days and unexpected absences, to name just a few of the recognizable behaviors.

Employers are combating this stigma in a variety of ways.  Some methods include raising the visibility of programs such as employee assistance programs (EAP), planning for anti-stigma campaigns and trainings for managers to help recognize mental health issues and adopting tactics such as bringing counselors onsite and reducing medication co-pays.

The pandemic has taken a toll on employees, and employers have an important role in continuing to create a supportive environment to ensure a healthy and productive workplace.  Benefits used to be more about attracting and retaining talent, and this has shifted to the realities of taking care of your current workforce.  Gone (at least for the moment) are the days when attracting new talent meant offering in-office perks such as ping pong tables.  The future of benefits is about a renewed focus on the values that keep employees healthy and productive.