Employers must modernize benefits to keep up with employee needs

Canadians are turning to employers for support for their well-being, but the benefits don't measure up

Employers must modernize benefits to keep up with employee needs
Dr. Stephanie Moynihan, associate medical director, Dialogue

Canadians are experiencing a decline in overall well-being and are expecting their employers to provide key benefits to support them, but many say their benefits plan doesn’t meet their well-being needs.

A report commissioned by care and wellness platform Dialogue Health Technologies Inc. and conducted by Canadian market research firm Environics Research, reveals that 71 percent of working Canadians have become more conscious of their health in the past few years. Despite this, one in three Canadians feel negatively towards their current state of well-being, notably in the areas of physical and mental health, sleep, and financial wellness, which for many have worsened over the past year.

The 2024 state of workplace health and wellness in Canada shows that several barriers hinder employees from taking action, including employees facing financial constraints (39 percent), experiencing a lack of motivation (41 percent), and simply a lack of time to tend to their well-being (45 percent).

“Taking care of one's well-being goes beyond seeking help when you are feeling unwell. It means maintaining a healthy lifestyle with accessible solutions to reduce stress every day,” says Dr. Stephanie Moynihan, associate medical director at Dialogue. “To get there, Canadians must have the right tools, which range from treatment-based solutions, self-serve resources, habit trackers, and wellness challenges – and employers need to make these solutions clear with employees.”

Workers dissatisfied with benefits

When it comes to workplace benefits, the report reveals several findings that capture the disconnect between Canadians and their employers. While nearly half (47 percent) are interested in improving their well-being and plan on using workplace benefits to do so, working Canadians report dissatisfaction with their current level of support:

In reality, employees may not always perceive the efforts made by employers to improve well-being. In fact, a majority of HR professionals (86 percent) affirm their organizations value employee mental health, acknowledging the responsibility, and believing that their organizations are taking appropriate measures to safeguard well-being. Despite the majority recognizing the importance of providing support, 70 percent still face organizational financial constraints when looking to improve their benefits.

As Canadians in the workforce admit to a decline in their health and well-being and the impact of workplaces on their well-being, employers must look for what makes employee benefits more accessible, as well as ensure these benefits are properly utilized, says the report. It adds that employer-paid services, properly catered to employee needs, can help improve workforce well-being, job satisfaction, work-life balance, as well as improve chances of attracting top talent.

Despite significant progress by Canadian employers to offer more accessible benefits, there's a noticeable gap:

  • One in three employees and HR professionals continue to view their workplace mental health support as insufficient, which can further lead to decreased performance and burnout
  • More traditional models of benefits provided, such as old-school employee assistance programs (EAPs), are also under-utilized
  • Fifty-three percent of working Canadians reported having never used their EAP, despite employees citing it as a valuable resource for mental health, family issues, and financial advice.

Employers must modernize benefits

This situation underscores the need for a thorough review and enhancement of workplace benefits. While employers need to improve the ways they communicate their benefits, they must also improve them. This is crucial for reducing absenteeism, turnover, and productivity losses, and for closing innovation gaps. With eight in 10 working Canadians expressing a preference for virtual care options, it's clear that modernizing benefits to include such services is becoming increasingly important.

“Employers need to think about improving the ways they communicate the benefits they offer, such as during the onboarding process or by leveraging executives in promoting them, but they also need to ensure that they are actually answering the needs of their employees,” says Moynihan. “How to access benefits is also a consideration, as over half of HR professionals state that their benefits are offered through different vendors. This adds a layer of complexity for employees and contributes to under-utilization due to lack of accessibility. Dialogue’s most recent survey shows that 53 percent of working Canadians have never used their EAP, even though most Canadian employers offer one.”

She says employers need to ensure that the solutions they offer are ‘personalizeable,’ high-quality, and evidence-based, as well as measurable in terms of outcomes to ensure they are effectively meeting the needs of their workforce. 

“To effectively meet the diverse needs of their workforce, employers should reassess their current well-being strategy and benefits, aiming to adopt inclusive practices. This involves offering customizable benefits like flexible work arrangements, mental health resources, diversity training, and employee resource groups, while actively soliciting feedback from their employees.”

She suggests one way to make benefits more accessible would be to offer virtual care offers, which 80 percent of working Canadians would prefer. “Contemporary virtual health and well-being solutions, such as Dialogue’s, provide comprehensive support for a range of health and well-being concerns in an integrated and proactive manner. These solutions not only assist employees when they are sick but also help promote healthier lifestyles tailored to each individual.”

Does your organization regularly assess whether the group benefits are meeting the needs of all employees? Comment below.