How has the pandemic changed caregiver benefits?

Organisations that offer benefits to caregivers come across as employee friendly

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COVID-19 has been fatal, but also highly educational. Since the situation was unprecedented and no one had any experience of dealing with such circumstances, it threw many surprises at both the employees and the employers. Many issues that were till recently dealt swiftly, without too much deliberation, became some of the key drivers in the growth of an organisation. Caregivers’ plight is one such area, which amped up into something highly significant and sensitive in the past couple of months.

One of the biggest challenges of the work-from-home model was that it wasn’t just professional life that needed tending to, but personal as well. Many moved back to their hometowns to be with their families and take care of them in these turbulent times. However, that also gave rise to a pressured environment. The rapid exit of women from the workforce during the pandemic has been found to be directly linked to caregiving responsibilities.

Our death benefit for employees is actually 2.5 times the fixed pay. People for whom the total comes to less than Rs 10 lakh, the earlier benefit was a minimum assured sum of Rs 10 lakh to the family of the deceased. Now, we have doubled that to Rs 20 lakh.

Prashant Khullar, senior vice president – HR, Max Life Insurance Company

A McKinsey Global Institute Report from last year suggests that women’s presence in the workforce has gone down further by 17-23 per cent after the pandemic struck. That’s because, while work-from-home piled responsibilities on everyone, women took the maximum burden of caregiving, be it their children or the elderly at home. This is quite alarming, as experts predict that this has put the gender on a backward spiral instead of bridging the gap between the genders. Fortunately, there are a lot of instances of how organisations have stepped up to ensure that the caregivers are compensated adequately and properly looked after during these times.

Alkem’s ‘Talk to Me’ and Gratitude Pay

Rajorshi Ganguli, president and global HR head, Alkem Laboratories, list outs the ways in which the organisation has taken care of the caregivers during the pandemic. “We set up a 24/7 COVID helpdesk. Basically, if anybody experienced any symptoms or their family members showed any, they could get in touch with us. Ambulance, admission procedure, home quarantine, everything was addressed. We also launched an employee-assistance programme called ‘Talk to Me’. If there was any psychological issue, personal or within the family, they can call up a number to receive guidance from trained psychologists and counsellors. Webinars were conducted wherein medical professionals discussed ways to deal with stress arising out of the COVID situation.”

Alkem’s ‘Talk to Me’ initiative was fully paid for by the Company. Each individual was fully reimbursed by the Company for the services availed. When the COVID-19 outbreak happened, Alkem announced an additional Rs 7 lakh insurance for the family, over and above the regular medical benefits they were getting. “Even in cases where the insurance companies have not reimbursed them for various reasons, the Company stepped in to cover the same,” Ganguli adds.

In the first few months, Alkem had introduced Gratitude Pay – to thank the employees who came to work despite the strained circumstances. “For people who were coming for research, or at the manufacturing or distribution centres, we offered additional pay for each day they attended. That varied from 100 to 25 per cent of a person’s one-day salary depending on the seniority level,” he explains.

Max Life’s unlimited sick leaves and increased death benefit

Max Life Insurance Company, on the other hand, came up with several compensation policies for the family of deceased employees. This includes increasing the sum of death benefit from Rs 10 lakh to 20 Lakh for a few of them. Prashant Khullar, senior vice president – human resources, Max Life Insurance Company, informs, “Our death benefit for employees is actually 2.5 times the fixed pay. People for whom the total comes to less than Rs 10 lakh, the earlier benefit was a minimum assured sum of Rs 10 lakh to the family of the deceased. Now, we have doubled that to Rs 20 lakh. On top of that, whatever bonus was paid last year was also paid to the employee’s family. We also used a formula to calculate the number of years remaining in service to know the future service liability, which was also paid to the family. This is a big change that we made in the last couple of months.”

In a day and age when medical costs are going up, anything that’s over and above the regular benefits will be appreciated. I don’t see a direct impact, but it will give retention benefit. 

Mansij Majumdar, head – human resources, UNext Learning

That’s not all. A few days before the pandemic struck, the organisation had announced unlimited paid sick leaves for people who have been around for five years or more. Even if an employee is bed-ridden for two years, he/she will be able to avail the benefits of the scheme. Apart from that, the organisation offers bereavement leave that allows employees to take time off even while they continue to get their salary.

“If an employee passes away, medical benefits generally lapse. However, we have ensured that the medical benefits for the family continue until the end of the policy term. We have also partnered with a digital company called Doctor Insta, to provide free benefits to all our 15,000 employees. They have access to several doctors on call. This is a complimentary benefit for self and dependents who are declared. Through this app, many discounted health checks are also available,” Khullar reveals.

UNext Learning’s hospital benefits and MHE app

Many organisations tried to include a lot of other important benefits in their compensation programme to help their employees. Mansij Majumdar, head – human resources, UNext Learning, a Manipal Education and Medical Group, reveals, “Manipal Hospital is part of our group. So, we extended some benefits from the Hospital’s side. We also have an MHE app, which prioritises employees’ appointments and bookings.”

Extending such benefits to the caregivers in an organisation sets them on the right track. Thanks to the pandemic, companies have woken up to the fact that in the post COVID world, candidates may favour companies that take care of their employees. Majumdar feels it is a crucial criterion now, but a few years down the line, it may not be so. “From an employer brand perspective, that is an attraction because in a day and age when medical costs are going up, anything that’s over and above the regular benefits will be appreciated. I don’t see a direct impact, but it will give retention benefit. The demography of 35 years old or more, that’s where benefits go up because of the existence of elderly parents or a family. It’s an employer-value proposition. How one is supporting one’s employees as an organisation, that is the value prop one will put up. The top priority, however, will be quality of work, work-life balance and compensation. Once these stabilise, it may not be as important as it is today. It is a selling point now for sure when one talks to candidates.”

Majumdar reveals that last January, they had seven offices in Bangalore, and today, they are running on just two. “Only 30 per cent people are coming to work but I have 100 per cent workforce. My talent pool has increased. Therefore, I need to have a value proposition for the candidates,” Majumdar asserts.

Even in cases where the insurance companies have not reimbursed them for various reasons, the Company stepped in to cover the same.

Rajorshi Ganguli, president and global HR head, Alkem Laboratories

Like Majumdar mentions, caregiving benefits will definitely help grow an employer’s brand in a big way. It can also become one of the factors for a candidate to take into consideration, while deciding on a job offer. However, HR experts believe it may not be a crucial one. Ganguli doesn’t think it will be an entitlement. “But some kind of employee-assistance programme will be expected. The word ‘caregiver’ can be used in various ways, but one can’t possibly extend assistance to all of them. If it is related to work stress, an employee-assistance programme will be quite good.”

Work culture, nature of work and compensation will still remain the first things on a candidate’s mind. “After that, when one starts comparing benefits, that’s when it may play a part in decision making,” Khullar adds. He also admits that right now it ranks higher on the wish list than other criteria.

Caregiver benefits not only favour and assist the employees in many ways, they also project an employee-friendly image of the organisation. Hence, the many initiatives launched by them in the last couple of months will definitely be rewarding for organisations.

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