In the employee benefits space, we’ve seen a significant shift in recent years. Emphasis has moved away from flashy, unorthodox benefits toward practical ones that make it easier for people to stay engaged at work, while still having a life outside. That trend is sure to stick around, but the changing demographics and priorities of today’s workforce will make it harder to ignore certain imperatives (like maternity) as companies look to recruit and retain top talent. Looking into 2019, yes, companies will still look to prioritize a work/life balance, but what about new life?
Maternity is often the No. 1 or No. 2 healthcare cost for self-insured employers, yet it is not well-served by current solutions available to American working women. While 96% of expecting mothers say that they are excited to go back to work after giving birth, fewer than 60% remain in the workforce after the first year often due to lack of proper postpartum support. This will be a catalyst for change this year, and I expect we’ll see an emphasis on postpartum care.
Additionally, with Millennials making up 35% of the workforce and 90% of new parents, they’re looking for workplaces that will support their lives as working parents, and I suspect we’ll see employers evolve and tailor their benefits packages to meet the demands of these Millennials.
The Fourth Trimester
One critical change that will be prioritized this year is an increased focus on the postpartum stage of a new mom’s journey. The maternity process is no longer considered complete once birth occurs. Employers are changing the way they think about maternity health, which means including a fourth trimester that holds equal weight as the preceding three trimesters into common maternity planning. In 2018, many employers and state governments (such as New York) improved their parental paid leave policies, and yet, one in four U.S. mothers returns to work 10 days after giving birth—this is an unrealistic amount of time to stabilize and adjust to their new normal. In 2019, HR departments will recognize that they can close a gap that exists for female employees by prioritizing mental health as much as physical and offering support and guidance during what is oftentimes the most emotionally vulnerable period in a woman’s life.
Anywhere from 50% to 80% of new moms experience some type of maternal mood disorder. It is often left up to women to seek out help themselves, which can be expensive, not to mention difficult given the stigma attached to mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that 50% of women suffering from perinatal depression never receive help. The good news is that, finally, this concern is gaining nationwide attention, with influential figures like Michelle Obama and Serena Williams speaking publicly about their own struggles. We’ve already seen a sharp uptick in the efforts from insurance companies to offer postpartum support, and we will see more employers seeking out solutions.
An important first step will be employers stepping in to ensure improved screening—in a 2018 national survey conducted by Maven, we found that over half of women weren’t even screened for postpartum depression. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a mother. As such, diverse and varied options for employees embarking on the parenthood journey will be critical to fully support and offer care for those employees who wish to remain in the workforce.
The Working Millennial
Millennials are no longer the young stereotypes that we often think of. They’re taking over the workforce and starting families of their own. In fact, female Millennials, in particular, accounted for 86% of the growth in the workforce of prime-aged women (those 24–54 years old) in the past 2 years. When it comes to adding benefits that will attract top talent, this subset of the workforce should be a primary audience for HR decision-makers—especially considering 89% of Millennials would choose better benefits over a pay raise.
Millennials have very different needs than the prior generation—they are having children later in life, and they are twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ. To meet their diverse family planning needs, benefits packages in 2019 will evolve to prioritize services including egg freezing, IVF treatments, surrogacy, and adoption. Equally important, leveraging platforms like Maven to provide 24/7, coordinated care will deliver the kind of always on, personalized support that Millennials demand. Companies and healthcare models are recognizing that they need to evolve to meet the needs of their new audience—and quickly if they want to attract top candidates and retain women leaders.
2019 is poised to drive real change when it comes to maternity health and what top companies can offer their employees when it comes to starting their families. The United States as a whole is actually very behind in updating their maternity benefits offerings—we remain the only country in the developed world that does not require employers to offer paid leave for new mothers. On the bright side, that long overdue change is afoot, and the year has already begun with the governor of California proposing a 6-month paid leave for new parents.
While the government works to get caught up, employers have the power for more immediate change within their organizations. Maternity benefits will be a priority for every employer looking to recruit top talent and to retain the female leadership that they need to drive their business forward into 2020.
Katherine Ryder is the CEO and Founder of the Maven Clinic.