It’s that time of the year, when we all reflect on the past twelve months and the events that have shaped it. The time when the internet is full of predictions on what trends and technology will emerge and grow in the following year.

But this year’s a little different, because 2020 was not your average 365 calendar days. Thanks to COVID-19, this year will likely elicit memories of high unemployment, a strained health care system and small businesses struggling to stay afloat. But as 2020 draws to a close, now’s the time to think about the silver linings, reflect on what we’ve learned this year, and set ourselves up for success in 2021.

HR & Employee Benefits Trends and Predictions for 2021

1. The true cost of COVID will be felt in 2021 and beyond

There’s no denying that this year has come with innumerable challenges. But the true cost of COVID-19 won’t be felt by the business world until 2021 and beyond. 

For example, your employees aren’t scheduling appointments with their physician as frequently as they used to. In the United States, patient volume has dropped 60% since the start of the pandemic, and revenue has declined 55%. No one wants to sit in a doctor’s office and increase their risk of contracting coronavirus.

Since March 2020:

60%

decline in physician visits

55%

decline in physician revenue

Unfortunately, this drop in patient volume means many employees are ignoring health issues they’d have otherwise addressed sooner, and they’re not receiving proper preventative care. The lasting effects will be significant:

  • An estimated 130 million additional people will starve this year due to reduced resources and limited in-person aid.
  • One in four Americans between the ages of 18-24 seriously considered suicide in June 2020.
  • Cancer screenings aren’t being performed properly, a problem that might not result in mortality this year but will in the near future. Someone who might have lived for an additional 15-20 years might instead die in three to four because they didn’t receive the care they needed this year.
  • Similarly, tuberculosis vaccination programs across the world have temporarily been suspended, even though a  recent study found evidence that a vaccine used against tuberculosis may help reduce the death rate for COVID-19.

Employers aren’t exempt from the cost of COVID-19, either. When their employees finally address the health issues they’ve been neglecting during the pandemic, their claim costs are most likely going to skyrocket. A recent survey reported that global healthcare benefit cost increases are expected to jump by more than 8% in 2021.

The pandemic hasn’t only affected health care, either. Nearly 93% of people in households with school-age children reported their children engaged in some form of “distance learning” from home, but lower-income households were less likely to rely on online resources. And an estimated 30–40 million Americans could be at risk of eviction in the next several months. 

Your employees need more support than ever, in the form of new benefits and financial guidance. Here’s where to focus your attention:

2. Employers will continue to focus on telemedicine and mental health benefits

The telemedicine market will reach

$66 billion

by 2021

Telemedicine and mental health rose quickly to the top of the list as two of the most-discussed health care topics this year. Analysts estimate the global telemedicine market will reach $66 billion by 2021 and $185 billion by 2026, and research has shown that telehealth interventions produce positive outcomes when used for remote patient monitoring, broadly defined, for several chronic conditions and for psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.

According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), telehealth “helps ensure patients receive the right care, at the right place, at the right time.”

And 60% of our customers are following suit by making telemedicine was a priority for them this year. 

Mental health will also receive more and more attention as employees deal with the lasting effects of financial strain, health issues and global unrest. More than 40% of our customers reported that mental health services are a focus this year, and just in time:

As we continue to adjust to the pandemic’s “new normal,” adding these benefits and fully communicating their value will be an important way for employers to ensure their employees get the physical and mental health support they need now.

Year-round benefits engagement has never been more important

U.S. employers collectively spend a whopping $1.2 trillion annually on healthcare. This staggering amount is partially due to systems issues, including government regulations, fee-for-service payment models and inefficient workflows and other processes. But it’s also the result of uninformed or poor decision-making in selecting and using health care benefits.

The best way to combat those high costs? Turning your employees into smarter health care spenders and savers, and that starts with health savings accounts (HSAs). There’s just one problem here: only 11% of employees fully understand their HSAs, even though more than half of employers say HSA education is their primary concern.

That’s why we created ALEX® HSA, which combines HSA Bank’s decades of health savings account administration experience with Jellyvision’s benefits education expertise. It helps your workforce fully understand and optimize their health savings accounts, turning them into better healthcare consumers to drive down costs.

It’s a whole new way to HSA—aimed at helping you lower health care costs.

Learn more

Employers will become financial advisors

The unemployment rate peaked in April at 14.7%, an unprecedented level not seen since data collection started in 1948. And according to a recent Jellyvision study, 44% of employees are worried about their current financial situation. 

Employees are under more financial stress than ever before, and they’re looking to you for help. In fact, 35% of employees say their employers aren’t doing enough to support their financial health.  Employer-sponsored financial guidance has been a hot topic for over a decade, but if COVID-19 has proven anything, it’s that now is the time to step up and put your money where your mouth is. 

In 2021 and beyond, successful employers will become true financial advisors to their employees, equipping them to make smarter decisions year-round about their finances and benefits.

“If you’re an employer…inaction can be seen as a lack of interest or a lack of care. People would rather you provide some sort of [financial guidance] and show that you’re trying, than to not engage at all.”

— Will Sealy, Co-Founder & CEO, Summer

Listen to our CRO, Helen Calvin, discuss how to offer better financial guidance in response to COVID-19, alongside HR & finance experts from Summer, HSA Bank and Red Robin. 

Next year’s trendiest benefit? Time 

As many companies throughout the U.S. have adapted to working remotely, employers are increasingly realizing that the “clock-in, clock-out” mentality doesn’t work anymore, and it’s not the best way to measure productivity. 

“The concept that discipline comes from the office is something that I would like to change—that idea of nine-to-five, set the meeting schedule to this time, set your office temperature at this temperature. The most successful employees are folks that have figured out what works best for them—in terms of their own mental health, their physical activity, their relationships with their pets or their spouses and how they like to set up their meetings.” 

Steph Yiu, Head of Customer Success, WordPress VIP

Research shows that increased employee productivity, reduced turnover and lower organizational costs can be realized when employers allow their team members to work how and when they want. 

The future of work will be all about flexibility, giving employees the freedom and time to choose when and where they’re most productive. It’ll include enabling them to take time off to recharge when it’s best for them, whether that’s a couple hours on a Wednesday afternoon or jetting off to the Bahamas for a week.

What are your biggest predictions for HR trends in 2021? Let us know on social media!

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