Helping Employees through Challenging Periods

August 19, 2020
Man praying in a beige light jacket on a couch

Human Resources and Employee Benefit Managers can be a tremendous resource to their employees at any time, but especially during economic downturns or other challenging periods. Today, many employees have been placed on furlough, are having difficulty meeting their household expenses, and are experiencing increased levels of stress.

According to the 2020 Alight Employee Wellbeing Mindset Study, employees report struggling to find the balance they desire and 43% of employees avoid getting medical care for themselves or a family member because they could not afford the out-of-pocket expense. It is during these times, that HR and employee benefit professionals can really make a difference. In fact, the Alight study found that 73% of those employees surveyed said they find wellbeing benefits and educational programs from their employers to be valuable. Here are some of the key areas in which many employees need additional support:

  • Health insurance portability – Understanding how COBRA works in enabling employees who have lost their jobs continue their health coverage is important to convey. By sending a communication to the entire staff about the portability of health benefits under COBRA, every employee will have this information available.
  • Transferring retirement account balances – Similarly, employees who have been let go should be reminded that their retirement account balances can be transferred to a new employer plan’s administrator.  If they remain unemployed, the funds can be transferred to themselves with the caveat that they reinvest the funds in another tax-deferred account within 60 day or incur taxes on the amount they have received.
  • Financial wellness – It is especially helpful to provide guidance on ways employees can maintain their financial wellness even when faced with unemployment and a reduction in income. Communicate the importance of not dipping into retirement accounts unless absolutely necessary, creating and adhering to a household budget, and seeking the advice of your accountant and/or financial planner to maintain financial protection. Holding a virtual webinar on financial wellness during a challenging period would be a good way for a company’s HR and employee benefit managers to demonstrate both initiative and compassion.
  • Maintaining physical and mental health – Stressful periods can negatively affect one’s mental and physical well-being. It has been documented that rates of depression and suicides increase during economic recessions. Stress levels also cause many physical problems such as anxiety attacks, heart palpitations and rising blood pressure. Add to that other stress factors such as fears relating to becoming ill or a loved one becoming ill, losing one’s job and potentially losing one’s home, etc., and clearly one’s well-being can deteriorate and lead to a very serious medical condition. Sponsoring virtual fitness programs, providing the names and contact information for local resources, and sending periodic words of encouragement can all help struggling employees.

Times like today’s pandemic period also should prompt HR and employee benefit managers to think outside of the box and create new initiatives that could help their employees.  In addition to hosting virtual educational seminars and fitness programs, think about creating new employee resources such as a crisis fund for employees in great need, a food bank program, or expanded Employee Assistance Program (EAP) components. These extra measures will help employees in need, while also projecting an employee-centered culture.