How will businesses adapt employee benefits for the future?

July 7, 2021

Table of Contents

How Will Businesses Adapt Employee Benefits For The Future?

Before the pandemic, there was a clear distance between home and the office. The private affairs and difficulties faced by employees at home were largely perceived to be somewhat distinct from the professional arena.

The Covid-19 crisis has changed this. Instead of loosely-defined buzzwords, ‘work-life balance’ and ‘employee well-being’ have emerged as huge topics of discussion within corporate circles as employees struggle with the difficulties of remote work. As highlighted by the CEO of Care.com, the global pandemic has helped us realise the ‘undeniable interconnectedness of work and life’. 

The global pandemic has helped us realise the ‘undeniable interconnectedness of work and life’

Quote by CEO of Care.com

This has encouraged businesses to come to terms with the insufficiencies of generalised employee benefits from the pre-pandemic era.  Faced with ‘decreased productivity and retention, increased absenteeism, and declining mental health’ brought about by the shift to remote work caused by the pandemic, businesses are seeing the need to step up to provide for the more individualised needs of their employees. 

Enhanced Care Options and Increased Flexibility

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As many are being sent back to home for remote work arrangements, parents and caregivers are finding themselves having to simultaneously attend to the needs of the office and those of their loved ones. 

Women, in particular, are having to make significant career sacrifices when choosing between work and household needs. A 2020 Ministry of Manpower study found that women still earned less than men despite doing similar jobs due to their tendency to take on more primary care responsibilities. Following Singapore’s shift to home-based learning systems, the flexibility of work-from-home arrangements has arguably posed a greater challenge to working mothers who have to juggle work and childcare.

The disproportionate burden shouldered by working women during the Covid-19 crisis is not isolated to Singapore. In 2020, McKinsey and Lean In found that ‘1 in 4 women (surveyed from 40000 US and Canadian companies) were contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable less than a year ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce’.

Women still earned less than men despite doing similar jobs due to their tendency to take on more primary care responsibilities

TODAY Singapore

The pandemic has helped businesses realise that by inadvertently placing employees in an impossible position of having to choose between home duties and work, they lose out in terms of retaining top talent and employee productivity levels. Enhancing employee benefits surrounding childcare and eldercare provides much needed relief to overstretched employees which in turn allows them to better focus on their tasks at work.

The statistics are encouraging. According to Care.com, 50% of surveyed businesses plan to ‘newly offer or expand child care benefits in the near future’ and 42% plan to do the same for senior care benefits.

More importantly, businesses are evolving employee benefits to provide their employees with more flexibility. For example, instead of confining employees to on-site childcare centre options, some businesses are opting for paid online tools that connect employees to care providers (that include eldercare and petcare), and ‘one-on-one personalised counselling and planning’. 

Currently, while Singapore’s Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has guidelines encouraging employers to ‘offer staff up to two weeks of unpaid leave per year for the caring of immediate family members who are hospitalised’, paid eldercare leave has yet to be legislated. Unfortunately, unpaid leave presents a loss of income that might not be an option for some. Moving forward, businesses need to be more open to taking a more compassionate approach to employee care. 

Mental Health Help

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Mental health has emerged as a major crisis of the pandemic. A recent survey conducted by Employment Hero across five countries (Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom) in the last 6 months during the Covid-19 crisis found employees in Singapore to be the most stressed. Similarly, The Straits Times reported that 36% of poll respondents cited worsened mental health. 

Of course, these findings are not unique to Singapore – McKinsey and Company reported that 49% of respondents felt ‘burned out’ and Microsoft’s global study on hybrid work found that 39% of employees felt ‘exhausted’. It’s become abundantly clear that mitigating the toll the pandemic has taken on employees’ mental health should be a top priority if businesses want to maintain a productive workforce. 

More companies in Singapore have taken up Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offerings during the pandemic. Employees are provided with ‘individual counselling sessions and mental health workshops’ under such offerings (CNA).

Beyond traditional counselling, some businesses have gotten creative in terms of expanding their mental health help toolkit by engaging virtual mental health resources. For instance, global software company UiPath provided all its employees with free access to Headspace, a mediation application. Similarly, Singapore’s public service has been experimenting with iWorkHealth, ‘an online tool that allows employers and workers to identify factors of workplace stress’ (CNA) thereby aiding employers in their efforts to improve mental welfare at the workplace. 

However, most importantly, businesses should focus on creating a healthy company culture supportive of employees’ mental health needs. 52% of surveyed working parents indicated that they ‘hide their child care concerns from their employers and colleagues’ and worry about being ‘passed over for growth opportunities’ (Care.com).

Similarly, mental health stigma is prevalent in Singapore’s offices too. An interviewee for TODAY Singapore noted how much of the stigma surrounding vulnerability at the workplace was closely related to career advancement concerns. 

Managers can start by having open discussions with their employees about the stresses and anxieties faced at work. By creating open channels of communication between employees and employers and kick starting difficult conversations on mental health, businesses are signalling their commitment to workplace fairness and employee care.

Financial Planning

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Covid-19 has created nothing short of a turbulent economic climate. Bleak economic forecasts coupled with the contraction of the global job market has thrown the personal financial plans of many into jeopardy. Understandably, employees are worried about the robustness of their current savings.

According to a 2021 study by St. James Place Wealth Management, 45% of respondents (from Hong Kong and Singapore) felt uncomfortable with their current savings and  63% described how the Covid-19 crisis has ‘made them much more concerned about planning for retirement’. 

Going back to the ‘interconnectedness of work and life’, businesses are perceived to have an important role in providing their employees with assurance and support during such economically troubled times. According to Zurich Insurance, 64% of respondents (across different age groups) all ‘saw their own companies as having a role in educating their employees on financial planning, resilience, and wellbeing solutions’. 

Businesses need to start playing a more active role in facilitating retirement planning programmes and financial literacy initiatives. While the rise of remote work and the gig economy might be here to stay, employees ultimately need to feel valued by their employers. By looking beyond their immediate needs as ‘workers’, businesses are demonstrating that their ‘people’ are valued for the long-run. 

Key Summary

‘If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business’. In other words, businesses that put people first, get ahead. Instead of viewing employee benefits as a mere ‘cost’, introducing increased flexibility to employee benefits is a necessary step towards maintaining a cohesive team in the post-pandemic future of work.

It is crucial for businesses to find a balance between their immediate interests and long-term employee welfare needs in order to survive the pandemic. How does your business plan to adapt?

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