Employee Benefits: Where We Are, Where We’re Heading

January 7, 2022

Almost two full years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of work has changed irrevocably. Remote and hybrid work arrangements, heightened focus on behavioral health, a shift in employer-employee dynamics brought about by the Great Resignation — these are now established features of 2020s employment.  

Employee benefits and human resource management have changed during the pandemic too, but there’s still some catching up to do. 

As we begin a new calendar year, Alera Group invites you to join us for a look back at significant employee benefits developments that took place in 2021 and a look ahead toward important trends to anticipate in 2022. “Employee Benefits Landscape: 2021 Recap, 2022 Forecasts,” the first event in the new year’s Alera Engage webinar series, will take place on January 20 from 2-3 p.m. EST. The presentation, which will conclude with a Q&A session, is designed to help employers and HR professionals adapt their benefits programs to best serve their employees and provide a competitive advantage over other employers — all while meeting the never-ending challenge of containing healthcare costs.  

Recent Developments 

During our previous Alera Engage webinar, “Survey Results Are in: How U.S. Employers Are Tackling COVID-Related Decisions,” we examined the results of our most recent Employer Pulse Survey, in which we surveyed our national client base from October 18-November 4, 2021, to gain insights into employers’ pandemic-related decisions and actions. The results — including breakdowns by industry, size of organization and region — are available in our report on the survey, as well as in the webinar on the topic.  

To summarize, what we found confirmed reports that employers’ most pressing concerns were attracting and retaining talent, and supporting employees’ mental health. Other top areas of employer focus included preparedness for whatever might come next — which would become even more important with the subsequent emergence of the Omicron variant — along with hybrid work arrangements and return to the workplace. Two-thirds of our almost 800 respondents had implemented a formal infectious disease response plan, while another 18% were either in the process of putting a plan in place or considering the development of one.  

In addition, a quarter of respondents indicated that more than half their employees were working remotely some or all of the time, while almost half anticipated having employees back in the workplace by March 31 of this year. Again, this was pre-Omicron. 

We also looked at workplace policies and practices regarding vaccination, masks and more. 

What’s Ahead 

Forecasts of what’s to come are end-of-the-year staples of media outlets covering specific industries as well as general news. Publications covering benefits and human resources are no exception.  

Multiple media outlets have shared the findings of a recent Wellable Labs report on wellness trends for 2022, which cites:  

  • Employers prioritizing mental health programs for employees; 

  • Virtually delivered employee benefits emerging as the preference as employers expand their offerings; 

  • Brokers encouraging corporate clients to define a clear strategy for managing workplace stress; 

  • Telemedicine adoption and utilization continuing to soar. 

Human Resource Executive’s HR Tech Editor, Phil Albinus, advocates for long-term planning in another recent piece, “Beyond the Great Resignation: 3 trends shaping the future.” The trends of which he speaks:  

  • A rising “gray-collar” workforce, in which more technically employees succeed traditional blue-collar workers; 

  • Upskilling, the practice of training workers in new skills and helping them earn degrees as a means of retaining and developing their workforce; 

  • New leadership ethics, including the establishment of a “trust-based workplace,” in which employee surveillance tools are eliminated. 

At Alera Group, we have some thoughts of our own regarding trends for 2022, as does my webinar co-presenter, Cheryl Matochik, Managing Director and Partner at Third Horizon Strategies.  

“The employer/employee social contract has dramatically shifted over the last two years. This has changed the day-to-day challenges and opportunities facing employee benefits leaders in notable ways,” Cheryl said. “What emerged in 2021 was not just a highly competitive employee-driven job market, but the start of a new way for employers to invest in high-performance benefits that empower employees and are flexible in design and delivery.  

“In 2022, employers will continue to refine their approach to the health and wellbeing needs of the workforce, using it as a strategic tool to compete with employers around the country for skilled, talented and knowledgeable employees.” 

We’ll have more to say during our January 20 webinar. We look forward to hearing what you have to say, as well. 

To register, click on the link below. 


About the Author 

Sally Prather 

Executive Vice President and Practice Leader, Employee Benefits 

Alera Group 

Sally Prather has more than 25 years of experience helping clients, associates and businesses achieve their goals through growth-oriented insurance, benefit and HR solutions. 

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