Looking Back at 2021

December 23, 2021

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We began 2021 in the midst of a global pandemic, facing myriad of challenges in our personal and professional lives. Collectively, we were uncertain about the obstacles we would meet throughout the year and how to move forward in a vastly different environment than we have known.

At BenefitElect, we have experienced tremendous growth even amid challenges. Not only has our team increased this year, but we are also honored to collaborate with more clients in handling their benefits administration and employee data management needs.

In looking back at the year, we reflect on the benefits and business trends we have seen across the country and even worldwide in 2021.

The Great Resignation

Beginning in April, millions of Americans quit their jobs, and by the end of July, there were a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs. Many cited burnout from increased workloads and feeling unappreciated by their employers. The hardest hit industries were technology and health care. A recent survey by Microsoft of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year

UC Berkely economist Ulrike Malmendier suggests that the pandemic and rise of remote work have changed the way we view our lives and world. The pandemic put an acute focus on the company work environment. Workers are leaving toxic work cultures to go somewhere they feel valued and have a flexible work arrangement. Company leadership has needed to rethink their retention strategies and adjust pay and benefits to attract talent.

Hybrid Work Environment

With a concern for health and safety, some workers have been hesitant to return to the office and have expressed their need for a remote work arrangement. Work flexibility has actually become the number one priority for workers and has become a main driver in the Great Resignation. Companies looking to hire workers in the near future must be prepared to address work flexibility and create programs to accommodate workers. It is a key to attracting top talent.

As companies try to navigate the landscape of remote work or a hybrid work environment, the two biggest strategies will be utilizing technology to connect teams and ensuring the safety of the workplace if in-person meetings are required. Before the pandemic, only 8% of meetings included a remote participant. In the past two years, the increase in remote workers has fundamentally changed businesses globally.

Labor and Supply Shortages and Inflation

In 2021, we also experienced supply shortages as ports became clogged, making shipping an expensive challenge. Companies and consumers are now regularly dealing with delayed and canceled orders. The cost for goods has increased significantly and is driving inflation. This is affecting the day-to-day life for millions of Americans as the cost of food, gas, and materials continues to increase. After jumping 12% in the second quarter, third quarter consumer spending rose at only a 1.6% pace.

Businesses have also faced a shortage in labor, largely driven by workers who are seeking higher wages and work flexibility. During this holiday season, employers are looking to fill one million jobs, mainly in retail and hospitality. With a broad range of issues facing both employers and employees, the labor shortage may not be resolved quickly.

Expansion of Virtual Health Care Benefits and Mental Health Support

In 2020, we saw virtual health care skyrocket. Now, a year later, the utilization of telehealth has stabilized at levels 38 times higher than before the pandemic. Virtual health care has continued to evolve past the “virtual urgent care” model to incorporate other health care solutions. Psychiatry and behavioral health have particularly seen a 50% increase in utilization.

Addressing the mental health crisis has become a priority for employers as employees have faced increased levels of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression. Many companies increased their efforts in 2021 to provide employees with benefits that give them access to tools and resources that build resiliency and lower stress. Additionally, companies have chosen to offset the cost of behavioral health services and offer coverage for out-of-network providers at in-network coverage levels.

The Takeaway

Despite the challenges that have plagued the business landscape this year, businesses across the country have seen positive growth and change in 2021. With a spotlight on flexibility, well-being, and open communication, businesses can look toward a bright future marked with better connection and creativity.