5 family benefit trends all employers should be tracking

2020 rocked working families in a way no one could have predicted and many employers scrambled for solutions to offer relief. Now is the time for employers to get ahead of the emerging family benefit trends.

The events of the past year will color how employers think about supporting their workforces for years to come. Many of the changes brought on by the pandemic are here to stay and the benefits and support employers offer have to adapt to these changes. Cleo CEO Sarahjane Sacchetti and Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chitra Akileswaran got together for a live Cleo Conversation (on Zoom, of course) to discuss what employers should plan for in the coming year. These are the five trends they expect will define family benefits in 2021 and beyond:

2021 will be a slow recovery from 2020, but employers must act with urgency

Last year, pandemic- and political-related uncertainty created a mental health crisis across the country for children and adults. Record numbers of women left the workforce—Black and Hispanic women in particular suffered. Students lost months of learning, again with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) children most impacted.

Employers must act urgently to address these crises—providing adequate mental health support, affordable childcare, and education assistance. Left unaddressed, employers will begin to see their workforces look less and less diverse. “I don’t know that if women leave, they’re going to come back. So do whatever you can to retain women in your workplace,” urges Chitra. Health problems that emerged or increased during the pandemic will continue to impact employee wellness (and productivity). Ginger Co-founder and COO Karan Singh believes “we’re going to start to feel the downstream implications for months, if not years, to come.”


I don’t know that if women leave, they’re going to come back. So do whatever you can to retain women in your workplace.

Dr. Chitra Akileswaran, Cleo Co-founder & Chief Medical Officer

Even with the best of intentions, recovery will be slow. With vaccine distribution underway, it remains unclear how soon most of the country will be vaccinated and life can return to “normal”. And even then, vaccination is not a silver bullet. With so many unanswered questions, employers should help their population by providing certainty—like job security, clear reopening protocols—and support—like mental health and childcare benefits—whenever possible.

A decentralized workforce will create new needs for family populations

The pandemic has permanently changed the way work gets done. Remote work is not going anywhere and companies that used to express their culture through in-office benefits will need to rethink what they’re offering and how they are providing culture, community, and broader support. 82% of company leaders plan to allow some type of remote work after the pandemic. In a largely virtual or blended working environment, the once-popular benefits like free meals and coffee and onsite childcare no longer give employees what they need and won’t reach the distributed workforce.

The remote world forced families to navigate new childcare and education support arrangements, taking on many of the social, emotional, and cognitive development responsibilities that schools used to address. To live their values, employers will have to rethink what it means to support families in this new world. Employees will value choice and flexibility in their schedules, childcare options, education support, and other caretaking responsibilities. Stipends that families can use at their discretion will increase in popularity.

Virtual care continues, but patients need to take the reins

Out of necessity, the COVID-19 pandemic vastly accelerated and broadened the use of virtual care, once thought of exclusively for supplementary check-ins and mental health coaching. In 2021 use and efficacy of virtual care for services that used to be in-person only, like maternity, postpartum, and pediatric care will increase exponentially. Telemedicine patients have lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, and have 38% fewer hospital admissions.

A 2020 Business Group on Health survey revealed that 76% of employers are expanding virtual care solutions, with almost seven in ten waiving telehealth costs for employees during the pandemic. Virtual care can increase access and reduce costs, but it demands more engagement from the patient to be successful.

In the live Cleo Conversation “Planning for the unexpected: family benefit trends in 2021”, Chitra pointed out that virtual care does “put more responsibility on the individual.” When patients don’t have their typical scheduled face-to-face appointments, they need to proactively contact clinicians, raise their concerns, and ask questions to get the best possible care.

This year ushers in a new dependent care package

Dependent care has changed little since the 1980s. For most employers, “dependent care” means children and partners are included in health, vision, and dental insurance. Now, with families literally coming into view, it’s apparent that much more is needed to keep working parents and those that rely on them going. In 2021 “dependent care” includes uniquely supporting parents of children with more complex health needs, education and enrichment services, and childcare support.

Maternal and new child health drives about 20% of health claims and 25% of families have a child with specialized health needs. With costs increasing, employers will roll out new support systems that help parents navigate care and reduce employer spend.

Even once children return to in-person school, parents working remotely still have greater childcare responsibilities than before the pandemic. Education, enrichment, and childcare support for after school during the 3-5pm window when most parents are still working will become increasingly popular. If employers want their working parents to thrive, it’s essential they provide resources for the whole family.

I think you are going to see more requests from your employee population, not just for flexible time off, but for support for the whole family.

SJ Sacchetti, Cleo CEO

Benefits address the needs of a diverse workforce

Black birthing people are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth-related causes than their white counterparts. More people—particularly LGBT+ individuals—are pursuing alternative paths to parenthood like fostering, surrogacy, and adoption. Employers are realizing that the standard all health insurance plan of the past isn’t sufficient to care for diverse populations.

Emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion increased in 2020 and will extend to the benefits companies offer their employees in 2021. The needs of employees are continually changing, so there is no one-size-fits all solution. Employers will seek out flexible benefits that can adapt to individual employee needs and change with them over time.