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Mayer: What did we get right–and wrong–during COVID-19?

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.

It’s hard to believe we’re a year into the COVID-19 pandemic–it’s been a year that’s changed every aspect of work and life as we know it.

The worldwide health crisis has forced changes to nearly every workplace strategy, but one of the most significant, undoubtedly, has been how employers imagine and craft their benefits. Benefits have always been a vital tool for employers–especially when it comes to attracting and retaining talent–but in a pandemic that jeopardized health and safety, benefits became more important than ever. Wellness, mental health, caregiving support and more have rightfully been in the spotlight to help employees through what many describe as the most stressful time of their career.

“A lot of times you hear the phrase ‘life and death,’ and quite frequently it’s used in hyperbolic terms. This is actually a circumstance where it’s not hyperbolic,” Sean Woodroffe, TIAA’s senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer, told me recently. “How we focus [on] and take care of our associates is absolutely critical.” (I delve more into this in my cover story about how COVID-19 has changed benefits.)

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This is the most important time in recent history for benefits and how employers support their workers. So, what are you doing about it?

I’m excited to dive into this extremely important era in benefits at HRE’s upcoming Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, to be held virtually May 11-13. We’ll go in depth on how COVID-19, as well as other major events of the past year, have reshaped the benefits industry and transformed the way HR and benefits leaders view employee wellbeing. The program will include topics such as the mental health crisis, employers’ role in COVID-19 vaccines, caregiving, leadership during a pandemic, financial health and emergency savings.

Of course, we won’t be able to meet in person because of the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to seeing many exciting faces online, including:

  • Joan Lunden, caregiving advocate and former Good Morning America co-host, who will detail her experiences–and challenges–caring for her children, aging mother and sick brother, all while working full time, and why she has spent years advocating for better workplace support and family leave laws.
  • Jim Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, who will go in depth on how the new Biden administration will reshape healthcare and what employers need to know about benefits policy in 2021.
  • Melissa Gopnik, senior vice president at Commonwealth, who will discuss steps for building a path to employee financial security–including the rising trend of emergency saving accounts.
  • Carol Morrison, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity, who will explore COVID-19 vaccination plans and trends and cover into everything that benefit and HR leaders need to know about this developing topic.

TIAA’s Woodroffe, Edward Jones CHRO Kristin Johnson and Upwork’s chief people officer, Zoe Harte, are also among the many HR leaders who will talk about how they’ve handled COVID-19 for their employees and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. I’m also looking forward to a panel that will center on how benefits can help address racial inequities.

Among the many, many lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19 is just how frequently shortcomings exist in benefit packages and employer strategies. What I love about industry events like HBLC is the chance for innovators and experts to come together to talk not only about the latest and greatest trends, but about what is desperately needed to better help employees and keep them healthy, productive and safe. At HBLC, we will have an opportunity to come together as an industry to talk about what we got right and what we got wrong during COVID-19, and where we go from here. I hope you’ll join us.

Register for the free event here.