What COVID means for voluntary benefits might surprise you

As leader of Willis Towers Watson’s voluntary benefits practice, Mark Hebert has seen “tremendous” growth in voluntary benefits in the last several years.

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But with the new reality of COVID-19–and its associated shifting priorities and financial challenges–there’s no question that “things are really different” when it comes to those perks, he says.

“Voluntary benefits are playing a different role than they were; employers are focusing on different challenges than they were just a few months ago,” Hebert said during a recent HRE webinar.

Benefits like hospital indemnity, critical illness and accident/injury insurance are offerings employers might want to consider focusing on, given the gravity of COVID-19 and its accompanying financial challenges, Hebert says.

“Employees have a heightened sense of mortality and morbidity that they might not have had just a few months ago,” he says. “And they have a greater desire for security.”

Other voluntary benefits in a new spotlight because of COVID-19 include pet insurance–because pet adoptions are on the rise with more people staying home; identity theft insurance, as there’s a significant uptick in cybercrimes due to work from home; and legal insurance, given an increased interest in completing legal documents and an expected rise in divorce on the way.

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“A lot of employees have realized that the will they were planning on doing eventually [needs to be a priority],” Hebert says.

Related: Here’s how employers are changing benefits due to COVID-19

Research from Willis Towers Watson shows that 12% of employers surveyed by the consulting firm have enhanced voluntary benefits in the wake of COVID. Just 1% say they’ve reduced voluntary plans, although the vast majority haven’t made any changes.

So how do employers get value from these plans? HR leaders will want to make sure they have a thoughtful, well-communicated plan when it comes to sharing benefits offerings with employees. Employees need more education and information when it comes to benefits, something HR may want to focus on with open enrollment coming up in the fall.

Although COVID is–and should–make a difference with voluntary plans, Hebert says that additions and changes should also be relevant to employees post-pandemic.

“We want to make sure, beyond COVID, there is value for your employees with these benefits,” Hebert says.

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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.