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Jennifer Benz January 21, 2021 6 min read

What’s Trending in 2021 for Employee Benefits Communications

The confluence of events in 2020 dramatically reshaped our lives—where and how we work, where and how we eat, where and how we connect with friends and family, and how we see our world. The accelerated pace of change permeates so many facets of life that it’s hard to imagine this has all happened in less than a year. 

5 Overarching Themes

Change and disruption will be a big theme of everything we all do this year. Understanding that change and how it has already transformed people’s expectations of their employers will be a big focus of our upcoming webinar Keeping Up with Communications. We’ll look at five broad themes that inform just how differently we’ll need to approach HR communications in 2021:

  • New expectations for leadership—Employees as well as shareholders and the public are going to continue to expect to hear directly from their leaders. Leadership is expected to create interpersonal connections and provide clear and transparent communication. 
  • Building for connection—Replicating in-person interactions with your employees during a time of disruptions and stress will require intention and a lot of manager training. 
  • Continuous feedback—Organizations will use many tools to continuously ask people about their experiences and modify strategies based on that insight.
  • Well-being as part of everything—We see how critical well-being is to every organization’s success. We need to ensure people are taking time to get away, unplug, and mentally refresh during a time where life and work are blurred. 
  • Technology moving even faster—Organizations are making a permanent shift to a digital-first strategy, and expectations for technology have never been higher.

Trends to Watch

For you, as benefits leaders, those communications themes need to overlay on your various benefit programs and strategies. Business Group on Health outlined the benefits trends to watch in 2021, and it listed the big priorities for most employers. 

The Proliferation of Virtual Care

Virtual care, which exploded in 2020, will continue to grow in 2021. Patients will have expanded virtual options and improved availability through telehealth platforms and providers. Virtual care options will also include weight management, care management for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prenatal care, and musculoskeletal care management and physical therapy. In addition, more attention will be given to the evaluation of the quality, outcomes, effectiveness, patient experience and cost of virtual care options, and innovations, as well as the appropriateness of virtual versus in-person care for specific services. 

A Reimagining of Health Care Delivery

The pandemic has resulted in other changes in health care delivery, such as moving lower acuity care out of the hospital to free up beds for patients with COVID-19 and other serious conditions. Moreover, even though employers and plans may have momentarily slowed the expansion of alternative payment and delivery models because of the pandemic, a redoubling of efforts in 2021 will drive improvements in quality and value. 

A Spotlight on Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being

In large part because of the pandemic, employers stepped up their focus on employee stress and anxiety, loneliness, addiction, depression, and other serious mental illness. In 2021, novel approaches, such as virtual counseling and the integration of employee assistance programs and mental health benefits, will place mental health on par with other medical conditions.

Adapting to the Well-Being Needs of a Changing Workforce

Multiple factors, including the pandemic, the economy, and the expectations of younger workers, have caused a shift in employees’ well-being needs. For instance, those living alone may struggle with social connection, while others juggling child care, virtual school, or caregiving in the home may have difficulty creating a work-life balance. In 2021, employers will continue to demonstrate flexibility and support employee needs through leave, remote work, and other benefits.

Addressing Gaps in Health Equity

Disparities in health care as a result of race, ethnicity, and geography have been magnified during the pandemic. These gaps manifest themselves in differences in health conditions and outcomes, emotional well-being, and mortality. In 2021, the health care ecosystem, including providers, suppliers, and payers, will boost efforts to examine and address health equity, while mitigating the harmful effects of social determinants of health.

Financial Well-Being

Layered into those health themes is a big focus on financial well-being, as outlined in this PLANADVISER article. Women especially have taken a big hit in earnings, and money is a big stressor for most Americans. As we said in our blog in December: According to PwC’s 9th Annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 54% of employees say financial or money matters cause them the most stress. The recent Financial Resiliency Survey by retirement fund TIAA found that, as a result of the pandemic, 20% of American workers had to tap into an emergency fund, while 25% took on more debt.

Keep On Communicating

Benefits leaders have to balance taking care of short-term needs during this time of disruption and uncertainty with longer-term business and health goals. For those who want to drive the most value from their programs by fully engaging employees and their families, this year promises to provide an interesting landscape to further invest in education and ongoing communication. Employees are eager to hear from you, and we need to make sure we don’t lose that opportunity to really educate them and move them to action. 

We are looking forward to sharing our thoughts on how to do that all year. We’ll continue sharing insights through our blog, webinars, and upcoming conferences (all virtual for now). In addition to the webinar mentioned above, we'll be hosting live virtual workshops on our 10 Keys Workbook similar to Making the 10 Keys work best for you. This will be a great way for you to do a check on how your organization is doing against the best practices in communications.

And in Case You Missed It…

I was lucky enough to be a guest on two podcasts late last year. 

I joined Josh Itzoe on his Fiduciary U Podcast, Episode #7: Driving Results Through Effective and Impactful Employee Benefits Communications with Jen Benz. Josh is a Co-Founder, Partner & Chief Strategy Officer of Greenspring Advisors, and the 2018 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year. His podcast shares the latest information on corporate retirement plan trends, ideas, and best practices to assist decision-makers and others in the industry in being more effective at their jobs. We discussed how COVID-19 has impacted employee benefits and communication and how the most successful companies are aligning benefits communications with business goals to increase engagement and results, and how leveraging behavioral science and design can make employee benefits communications and engagement more consistent and easier for employees to understand.

I also spoke with the folks at Employee Benefit Adviser about Structuring a Year-Round Benefits Communications Plan for Your Clients. With many employees still working from home as the pandemic rages on, we discussed how organizations can rethink their year-round benefits communications strategy to reach their people where they are. 

We’d love to hear from you about any ways we can support you and your organization or any information you’d like to learn about. It is going to be a challenging year for benefits professionals but one where we can once again make a tremendous impact on our people and our organizations.


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Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.