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Brokers: Upgrading SMB Benefits Post-Pandemic

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Quick look: The work world is changing in unexpected ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic and benefits are reaching a new level of importance. Brokers can help small- and medium-sized business (SMB) clients jump ahead with benefits research, product comparison, and/or facilitating a partnership with a PEO.

Benefits have always been a major driver for employees, which makes it a crucial piece of an employer’s planning and budget. But as we approach a “post-pandemic world” employee priorities have shifted. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November 2021 alone, the quit rate rose to 3%, representing 4.5 million people. Employees are departing their jobs in record numbers, leaving holes in the workforce, and increasing competition among employers to attract new staff.

Small- and medium-sized business (SMB) employers feel this pressure even more intensely than their larger counterparts. After all, big businesses have more money to spend to offer higher salaries and enterprise-level benefits.

One way an SMB employer can stand out in the competition for workers is by rethinking their post-pandemic benefit offerings. As a broker, you possess insight and access to resources your SMB clients can’t reach on their own. Help your clients look beyond “benefits as usual” and discover offerings to improve their employees’ happiness, wellbeing, and loyalty.

Budgets are tight, but employers see value in benefits

Employers of all sizes recognize the bigger role benefits play in today’s (almost) post-pandemic world. Non-medical benefits are expected to grow by 20% in a few short years. Just over three-quarters of employers expect employees to demand more benefits in the future—a demand they must fulfill to remain competitive.

Though more than half of employers surveyed saw their revenue shrink in 2021, benefits are not an area they plan to trim. Instead, many employers are planning to get creative. Brokers can help SMB employers develop customized benefit packages to attract and keep top talent.

Benefits matter to today’s workers

Employees have a growing appreciation for benefits, now more than ever. And younger employees are driving the push. A recent study shows around one-third of all employees and half of Millennial workers cite insurance benefits as even more important since the start of COVID-19. Sure, salary matters, but younger workers are paying more attention to how benefits enhance their lives than older generations.

The types of benefits employees value have changed in recent years, too. For many workers, the pandemic closed the gap between work-life and home-life, increasing their awareness of where the two intersect.

Here are some of the most popular benefits emerging from the pandemic.

Innovative health offerings

With COVID-19 dominating the news cycle for nearly two years, it’s no wonder healthcare became top-of-mind for workers. Healthcare delivery changed during lockdowns, with new methods of scheduling and communication and a spike in the adoption of telehealth benefits.

Another healthcare coverage innovation involves “buy now, pay later” solutions, which help mitigate immediate healthcare-related costs. This type of creative financing may alleviate some of the fear of unexpected costs that could cause employees to stop short of utilizing the full scope of care available to them.

Brokers can help SMB clients dig into the details of their health plan’s coverage offerings, including telehealth offerings, online resources, mental health services, virtual wellness programs, financing options, and more.

Flexible schedules and hybrid work

Work/life balance took on a whole new meaning during the pandemic, and today’s employees are paying close attention to how work integrates with their personal lives. As variants of the original coronavirus continue to emerge, some workers are also balancing sudden returns to remote education, caring for sick family members, and fears about protecting their own health.

Hybrid work options can ease the transition back to in-person work and help employees balance demands at home. Per a recent McKinsey survey, nine out of ten executives envision a hybrid work model for their employees post-pandemic, but 68% of employers surveyed have no formal plan in place. SMB employers must be especially careful when updating scheduling or remote-work policies—incorrect or inconsistent application of new rules could violate state or federal employment laws. Brokers can promote partnering with a professional employer origination (PEO) to make sure all policies comply with current regulations.

Career development

Workers are also seeking ways to take their careers to the next level—and they expect their employers to help. Career development is also one of today’s most sought-after benefits. SMB employers are often so focused on the day-to-day success of the business, they overlook the valuable wealth of talent already within their organization.

Some low- or no-cost ideas for SMB employers to support their staff’s career growth include on-the-job training, in-organization career mapping, and mentorship programs. Employers with more flexible budgets may choose to invest in tuition reimbursement programs or pick up the bill for industry certification programs.

Physical and mental wellness

Wellness is also top-of-mind for today’s workers—an idea surpassing just physical health. Employers are also recognizing the connection between worker performance and what happens outside the office (or home office).

SMB employers can help their workforce by expanding their idea of “wellness.” This new perspective may include encouraging the use of wellness apps, offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that connect member employees to qualified mental health counselors, and stipends for exercise equipment or gym memberships.

Financial counseling

In addition to mental stress, the pandemic took a toll on employees’ financial wellbeing. Layoffs or furloughs caused many workers to dip into their savings accounts to stay on top of mortgages, student loan repayment, and daily expenses.

Workers today are looking to get their finances back under control and regain ground lost during the pandemic. Financial planning services, investment advice, and tax support can help employees maximize their salaries and get back on track with saving and investing for retirement or other major life events.

Tailored voluntary benefits

There are many creative options available to further upgrade an SMB’s insurance offerings. The most successful packages are those that reflect the needs and values of each company’s workforce. Voluntary benefits are a great way to enhance offerings at little cost to the employer since the expense of voluntary benefits is covered through employee payroll deductions.

Some of today’s most popular voluntary benefits are focused on enhancing employees’ lives outside the office. Here are a few trending offerings:

  • Supplemental dental options
  • Disability insurance
  • Identity theft protection
  • Pet insurance
  • Travel accident insurance

Brokers can help SMB clients source which benefits will be most relevant by developing formal or informal surveys for staff, then helping to collect information on the most reputable and cost-effective insurance providers.

Encouraging SMBs to partner with a PEO is another way brokers can instantly connect clients to cutting-edge voluntary benefit offerings. PEOs have the advantage of intimate knowledge of today’s trending benefits and can deliver cost savings due to their large-group pricing plans. 

Employees are hungry for information

SMB employers lose any edge they may gain from developing thoughtful benefits packages if employees are unaware of their options or the value of these offerings. 71% of employees rely on their employers only minimally to communicate benefit offerings, if at all. This can result in underutilization that disservices both employer and staff.

Workers need a clear explanation and recommendations about benefits best suited for them. Brokers can play an important role here, helping SMB clients develop the right materials to educate and excite employees. Some suggestions for brokers include webinars, Q&A sessions, fact-filled one-sheets, and quick guides to help SMB leaders communicate the breadth and scope of their organization’s benefits.

PEO partnership gives brokers an edge

Rethinking benefit packages can be a cumbersome and time-consuming task for brokers. One quick way to advance your clients to the cutting edge of benefit offerings is to encourage SMB leaders to partner with a PEO. In addition to gaining immediate access to Fortune-500-level benefits, PEOs relieve the SMB’s HR department from managing time-draining HR and compliance tasks. This can provide even more of an edge as employers struggle to re-gain lost profits or expand in today’s post-pandemic world.

Broker-only PEOs like ExtensisHR protect your relationship with clients, enabling you to deliver even more value without worrying about protecting your book of business.

Helping your clients reimagine their benefits offerings can give them an edge and reinforce your place as a trusted advisor—a much-needed support role as the employment landscape continues to shift in unexpected ways.

Help your SMB clients become better employers in the post-pandemic landscape. Our HR experts will show you how.

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