Top highlights from Day 2 of benefits conference

Many HR and benefits leaders landed on the career paths that they did for the same reason: They wanted to care for people.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they saw both an opportunity and a challenge–and as the need to care for employee wellbeing grew, so did the hurdles to delivering that care, said several speakers Wednesday during the second day of HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference.

While navigating the hardships over the last year, these leaders collected inspiring stories, strategies, tips and solutions to help ease the job of HR and benefits leaders in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. Here are a few highlights from the event, which wraps up Thursday. Registration remains open here, and sessions will be available on-demand through June 11.

Yes, benefits play a big role in DEI.

It is crucial to listen to your employee resource groups when designing benefits, panelists said in a keynote moderated by Jennifer Benz. In “How Benefits Can Address Racial Inequity,” attendees actively joined in a live discussion while listening to Andrea Trudelle and Jessica Brooks tell personal stories of how benefits policies designed for majorities leave minorities struggling or worse.

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With momentum from the events following George Floyd’s murder, the time for employers to make significant improvements is now, the panelists agreed, even though it’s nothing new. “COVID brought to life the systemic issues that people of color have been dealing with for years,” Trudelle said. Read more here.

No, mental health problems aren’t going away.

Daryl Tol

Employees’ mental health was in a precarious state before the pandemic and has only worsened since. One expert called studying those impacts over the past 14 months a “real roller coaster”–a pandemic within a pandemic.

And to make true improvements on the issue, employers must flip their understanding of the problem, said Daryl Tol, executive vice president of One Mind at Work. “We’ve taken this approach that people bring mental health challenges to work and we need to do things to help them.

“The reality is,” he said, “we cause a lot of those problems.” Read more here.

And don’t forget financial wellness.

That’s because employees also don’t leave their financial insecurities behind when they enter the office or start their remote workdays, leading to decreased productivity. But employers are in a unique position to help, despite the pandemic, according to Commonwealth’s Melissa Gopnik, senior vice president at the financial security nonprofit. Solutions include loans, access to earned wages and emergency savings benefits. Read more here.

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Personal finance expert Suze Orman recently launched a new solution called Secure specifically to allow employers to easily provide an emergency savings benefit. The fintech platform is designed to encourage even very small savings while helping employees avoid expensive borrowing, Orman said. “One of the reasons I’m excited about this is I want to find a way to stop employees from going to their 401(k)s and taking out a loan.” Read more here.

Related: Final day of HBLC looks to benefits industry future

Elizabeth Clarke
Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at