Becky Seefeldt is VP of Strategy for Benefit Resource with 20 years dedicated to the education and advancement of consumer-driven benefits.
The way we work may be forever changed. For most, change is difficult and challenging. But, consider this quote, often attributed to Socrates, from Dan Millman’s book, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
The past two years forced us all to see different, yet effective, ways of working. Organizations are yet again at a turning point. Do they fall back into “traditional” habits, or continue to reform?
What are the “new ways of working”?
• Increased Flexibility
Flexibility is at the heart of the new ways we work. It spans location, hours and even the definition of a workday. Location was once a defining characteristic of most jobs and opportunities. But, location has become flexible. Many employers are expanding candidate pools beyond the geographic location of their offices to include statewide and nationwide searches across time zones. Employees are working remotely and are no longer confined to a single region or work location.
According to a Gartner Survey, 59% of workers indicated they would only consider a new position or job that allows them to work from a location of their choosing. Additionally, 43% of respondents said that flexibility in working hours helped them achieve greater productivity.
• Emphasis On Outputs Over Presenteeism
The traditional way of working rewarded employees who were present at the office. The employees who put in long hours in the office were viewed as dedicated and productive. Meanwhile, remote employees or those with other commitments were often forgotten and overlooked when it came time for promotions.
However, there was a leveling of the playing field when the pandemic hit. A culture of “presenteeism” became a difficult and unreliable measure of success. For the first time en masse, managers were forced to rethink their management approaches. Rather than merely focusing on hours worked, managers have begun to focus on outputs and effectiveness. Managers should ask what the team’s goals are and how those can be measured.
• Acceptance And Inclusion
The rise in remote work has helped to counteract biases surrounding disability, gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Workers with special needs thrive in environments tailored to their needs, and the safety of their homes can help accomplish just that. Gender gaps can be bridged through increased flexibility. Additionally, remote work can limit visual bias that may otherwise have been a factor in an in-person environment.
While these were inadvertent side effects of the pandemic that set the path for more inclusive cultures, organizations and candidates are seeking more intentional efforts. HR leaders identified DEI as a top priority, 1.8 times higher in 2020 than 2019. Additionally, three out of four job seekers and employees report that a diverse workforce is important when evaluating companies and job offers.
• Communication Practices
When workplaces were largely in person, informal communication often served in place of more formal communication practices. Over the course of the pandemic, we were forced to be more intentional with our communication. Many would argue this had both positive and negative implications in the workplace.
There was greater acceptance and utilization of virtual meetings, but there was also more time spent in meetings. A national survey of professional communicators found that empathy, feedback and shorter meetings should be the goals for communication.
How can benefits adapt to the “new ways of working”?
There are many ways in which benefits and employee policies can be adapted to address these new ways of working.
Flexibility is essential.
Just as flexibility has been core to the new way we work, it is also essential to the new approach to benefits. Here are two ways to ensure your benefits are flexible.
• Commuter Benefits
Commuter benefits are often based on the assumption that employees are commuting to the office five days a week, 20+ business days a month. In the past, monthly passes were the norm and employees were often “locked in” to their choice two to three months in advance.
In hybrid and flexible work arrangements, employees need the ability to make changes on demand and week to week, or even day to day. Programs that allow for on-demand purchasing and allow unused funds to roll over from month to month automatically provide greater value and reflect the more dynamic needs of employees.
• Specialty Accounts
Sometimes referred to as lifestyle accounts, they provide flexible options for employers to offer benefits that appeal to the specific interests and needs of their employees. Specialty accounts allow employers to identify categories or items with which they would like to assist employees.
These could be practical areas, including utilities and home office expenses, or could be used to fill gaps in other benefits such as a bicycle commute program or educational development. But, it could also be for things that contribute to employees’ overall well-being, such as gym reimbursements, personal services and entertainment. Specialty accounts can be an easy way to provide a diverse array of benefit options to employees.
Take a holistic approach.
Traditional approaches to benefits and compensation focused on financial well-being and physical well-being. Financial well-being takes into account overall compensation, as well as retirement planning. Physical well-being considers health insurance, wellness programs and workplace safety. But, a holistic approach to benefits also considers mental health and well-being, social well-being and career well-being.
Mental health has gained a lot of attention since the start of the pandemic. In addition to employee assistance programs, employers are looking at broader access to therapy, coaching and mental health apps. Social well-being is a combination of corporate culture, work-life balance and overall connectedness inside (and outside) of work. In a tight job market, organizations need to be looking to grow and strengthen internal talent by focusing on career well-being.
What should employers be doing now?
The first step to adapting to the new ways we work is to take an honest look at your benefits programs and overall approach to employee well-being. Identify opportunities to make changes, ask employees what is important to them and follow through.
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