While most companies andorganizations typically prepare for crises with annual trainings,full crisis communication plans, and more, it's safe to say that noone could quite prepare themselves for the reality everyone hasbeen facing for the last few months – a global pandemic known asCOVID-19 (or the coronavirus). It's also likelysafe to say that there isn't an industry or field that hasn't beendrastically affected by COVID-19, employee benefits included.

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As states have started to re-open, many industries are assessingthe damage that has been done and are even analyzing ways theirindustry might be changed forever. Here are five takeaways thatCOVID-19 confirmed for the employee benefits industry:

  1. Don't underestimate the importance of a good relationshipbetween employers and employee benefits providers.

  • With a rapidly evolving situation like COVID-19, where we seenew updates released on a daily (and sometimes even hourly) basis,there's never been a more important time for your employer clientsto have a solid relationship with both their benefits provider, andwith their employees. Employers don't have to feel alone in tryingto keep up with all the updates and how it translates to theirorganization and their employees.
  • Always prioritize employees' personal health and safety aboveeverything else.

    • Ensuring that employees' questions are being answered, theirconcerns are at ease, and that they feel supported is vital at alltimes, but especially during crises. Employees are anyorganization's number one asset, and how organizations handlethemselves during a crisis will have a long-lasting impact evenafter the crisis passes. If your clients' employees are taken careof, the employer's clients will be, too.
  • Highlight lesser-known employee benefits options.
    • When thinking of employee benefits, most people andorganizations think of the most common – paid time off, sick leave,and health insurance – but there are many other lesser-knownoptions offered, too. From benefits such as short-term andlong-term disability (which can allow employees to take time offwhen needed without losing pay), to other benefits such as health savings accounts or even employeediscount programs, now is the time to make sure your clients andtheir employees are fully aware of all of their benefits and howthey can utilize them.
  • There's no such thing as over-preparing for a crisis.
    • In this day and age, there are many industries that cancontinue to operate while either working remote or limiting theamount of person-to-person contact. However, to do that, it'shelpful to have a plan and policies in place ahead of time. Iflaptops or desktops are used, make sure the IT department is up todate and has a system in place for allowing the same access fromhome. Ensure employees and teams know the protocols from workingfrom home – whether that be morning check ins, daily recaps, orfrequent Zoom meetings. If the industry is more heavily involvedwith the public, explore ways to minimize those interactions. Whatcan be done on the phone instead of in person, will reduced hourshave a positive impact, etc.
  • During rapidly evolving situations, be flexible.
    • Though open enrollment is done once a year, employersshould communicate often with their broker and employee benefitsproviders to see how they can adjust some of their policies to fitthe circumstances. Can employees donate PTO to help fellowemployees facing hardship due to illness? Can the company expandleave policies to allow employees to dip into negative hours toavoid taking unpaid leave? Instead of letting employees go, isthere an option to furlough employees to ensure they can keep theirhealth care coverage? For both employers and employees, it can behelpful to check in with their benefits advisor, employee benefitsprovider and HR representative to see what options are outthere.

    Rick Farris is chief sales and marketing officer at FBMC Benefits Management,Inc.

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