May 11, 2021 | Benefits Management | Posted by Ascentis Thought Leadership
Renewing your Focus on Employee Benefits
It’s an often-cited fact in the world of workforce management that employees value a strong benefits package more than a higher salary. Midway through 2021, that holds truer than ever. As the American workforce creeps back toward normalcy, employers and employees alike are re-evaluating which benefits mean the most to their workplace satisfaction and overall well-being. While specific benefits mean different things to different people depending on factors like industry, geography, and economy, there are a few universal areas of focus that have taken on new meaning following the events of 2020. Let’s take a look at a few important considerations regarding employee benefits.
Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA)
The past year brought about a lot of unexpected expenses for many Americans, and legislation is attempting to reflect that. In 2021 the Social Security Administration has increased Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits by 1.3 percent for around 70 million qualifying workers. That should be good news for employers who are wary of including significant cost-of-living adjustments in their salary and benefits packages after a difficult year. It is always worth keeping in mind, however, that keeping pace with COLA can be an important tool for recruiting and retaining quality employees.
One thing that 2020 made distressingly clear is exactly how uncertain employment can be. Although employment rates have been steadily climbing in the waning months of the pandemic, the last year still saw many people who previously felt relatively secure in their roles suddenly finding themselves out of work. That has put unemployment benefits at the forefront of many HR teams’ agendas as workplaces move back toward a semblance of normalcy.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was enacted in March as an effort to extend earlier pandemic-relief measures while employees and businesses get back on their feet. There are four major pieces of ARPA legislation that both employers and employees should be familiar with.[Text Wrapping Break]
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides unemployment coverage to certain contract and contingent employees, gig workers, small business owners, and other workers who might not otherwise qualify for unemployment.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides ongoing coverage to people who have already used up their allotted state unemployment benefits.
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) provides qualified workers with a weekly $300 benefits payment on top of state unemployment benefits (additionally, that payment will not count against qualification for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program).
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) provides an added $100 per week to employees who both worked a W-2 reportable job and earned at least $5,000 in self-employment income.
Employers should also know that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides businesses with a partial reimbursement for COVID-related unemployment claims. Many states also offer some form of reimbursement program, so it pays for employers to investigate the specific relief available in their locations.
Mental health coverage
The extreme stress levels and unprecedented scenarios of the past year have pushed workplace mental health coverage to top of mind for many employees and employers, but opinions and perceptions diverge widely. A recent survey found that a whopping 94% of employers believe they are doing enough to support mental health in the workplace, but only 69% of employees agreed with that sentiment. With a pre-pandemic Gallup poll finding that 76% of workers experience some degree of burnout — a number that has almost certainly climbed over the past year — it is evident that mental health needs to be a focal point for employers, especially those in healthcare, manufacturing and other industries with historically high employee turnover rates.
As employees return to a more “normal” work environment, there will be a whole new slate of stressors and concerns to impact their mental well-being. About 86% of employer insurance programs also include mental health coverage, but many workplaces do not do an adequate job of educating their employees about their mental care options. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires any employer that offers mental health coverage to do so at the same level as their medical coverage, but those options are often overlooked when discussing benefits packages. Highlighting mental health care not only helps foster a healthy and happy workforce, it also makes a workplace more attractive to potential new hires in the post-COVID landscape.
One silver lining of the difficult year most organizations have just come through is that the pandemic has forced businesses to take stock of the practices and processes that truly matter to their employees’ safety and satisfaction. As those factors directly impact productivity and profitability, it benefits everyone to put benefits at the forefront.
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