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3 Challenges for Benefit Managers During the Pandemic

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Providing benefit portability, helping employees manage their work/life balance and maintain financial stability can help employees during this difficult time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most turbulent times for employers and their employee benefit programs. A huge portion of the workforce has been let go or had to adapt to working from home; at the same time, many people have found jobs in sectors where demand for employees has been stimulated by the crisis.

Employee benefit managers face at least three specific challenges. The first one is probably the easiest to manage, though the fact that it may apply to so many people at one time may be the greater challenge:

Providing benefit portability and a smooth plan conversion process. Make sure employees know their portability rights. COBRA allows most employees to continue health coverage for a period of time after losing a job. Portability is also an important factor with IRAs. Retirement account owners can instruct their former employer to transfer their account balance to their new employer’s administrator. They can also elect to get the funds themselves, whereupon they have 60 days to reinvest the funds in another tax-deferred account or pay the taxes on the amount received.

Helping employees manage their work-life balance. This is more challenging. For example, how can parents cope with working remotely while the kids are home all day? How can they adapt to getting work done and fulfill their home-schooling responsibilities? This is where Employee Assistance Programs can be a valuable resource, addressing not just health concerns (as we discuss in another article in this edition), but offering counseling, crisis-support, referral services, 24-hour crisis telephone support and more. Many EAPs now provide services via Zoom and other face-to-face technology.

Additional ways to help employees manage stress and relieve anxiety include providing online tools for meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques as well as exercise classes.

Helping employees maintain financial wellness. Stress about money can have a significant impact on anyone, but especially in times of greater uncertainty like now. This may be a good time to reach out to employees and invite them to enroll in a financial wellness program, which often exists as a benefits tool but are under-utilized. Regardless of employment status, understanding and practicing the basics of financial well-being can relieve stress. Living in isolation may even help people understand how to cut spending and practice contentment. Some wellness programs include a financial education component, offering online education and personal counseling.

For help navigating any of these challenges, please contact us.