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How Benefits Have Changed Since Covid: A Q&A with Heather Browning, MBA, CRM, CIC

How Benefits Have Changed Since Covid: A Q&A with Heather Browning, MBA, CRM, CIC

October 24, 2022

With open enrollment coming up and so many companies changing their offerings, I thought it would be helpful to ask an industry professional what we should look for when it comes to our benefit selections. Colonial Benefit Group’s Heather Browning, MBA, CRM, CIC give us some insight into what we might expect and how many companies are putting their employees first. Thank you, Heather!


What are some examples of changing employee benefits since Covid? 

Since COVID-19 and the “Great Resignation”, businesses have experienced significant changes in the workplace, including employee benefits.  As employers have had to adjust to the impacts of the pandemic, remote work and flexible work schedules have become a valuable benefit to employees and job seekers who desire a greater work-life balance. 

Healthcare has never been more important than now because of COVID-19 and the increase in physical and mental health issues.  As a result, many healthcare plans are prioritizing whole-body health and have enhanced employee benefits by expanding coverages to include emotional and mental health services.  Additionally, many healthcare providers have made medical care more accessible 24 hours/day, 7 days/week through telemedicine and urgent care at home. 

With employees being a business's greatest asset, employers are investing more in their employees’ financial wellness by increasing contributions to retirement plans, offering short and long-term disability and life insurance.   


What are some things that employees should look at during open enrollment? 

Employees should understand healthcare plan terminology. 

Make sure employees are familiar with basic healthcare plan terminology.  It is common to misunderstand the difference between a premium and deductible, or copay and coinsurance, or in-network and out-of-network care. If employees do not understand the terms of the healthcare plan, contact the company’s human resource professional or benefits consultant for clarification.  

Employees should review current elections. 

If you have a previous plan at your employer, what does your coverage look like? Who are your listed beneficiaries for not only your health plan but also your life insurance and retirement plans? Some employers may allow employees to simply keep current coverages.  If so, make sure employees have a record of current healthcare plan elections. 

Employees should review or anticipate any major lifestyle changes that will affect healthcare plan selection. 

Lifestyle changes can include both changes in the past year or changes that will occur soon. For example, an employee may have been married or had a child in the past year, or plan to do so in the coming year. Lifestyle changes can also include any medical changes, such as the diagnosis of a chronic condition or a new prescription for medication.  To select the most suitable benefits package, take time to understand how lifestyle changes may impact out-of-pocket costs and benefit coverages. 

Employees should take time to review any benefits material received from the employer. 

It is important to take the time to read over any materials from the employer, including Summaries of Benefits and Coverage (SBCs), Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs), enrollment guides, and brochures. Take advantage of any meetings or benefits fairs hosted on-site to fully understand benefit coverages and options.  For an in-depth, individual consultation, contact the benefits broker/consultant directly. 



How can companies improve their offerings to encourage employee retention? 

Businesses are constantly competing for qualified employees and seeking strategies to retain current employees.  The pressure to make the workplace stand out to new hires and re-engage current employees is significant while also boosting morale.  However, the costs to offer better and more comprehensive coverages are worth the investment.  Flexible schedules, remote work options, and parental leave are also perks valued most by employees.

A healthy work-life balance is essential to job satisfaction. Employers should lead and manage with compassion recognizing that employees have personal lives outside the workplace.  Encouraging employees to use earned personal time off to recharge is key to fostering whole-body health.  Also consider offering extra time off from work to compensate employees who work extra hours, late nights, or weekends to meet deadlines and complete projects. 

Maintaining employees’ whole-body health and supporting financial wellness is a sustainable business practice. Many leading employers prioritized employees’ well-being by expanding and improving their wellness offerings during the pandemic.  Stress management programs, retirement planning services, and reimbursement for fitness classes are just some examples of expanded wellness offerings.  In turn, studies have shown employee satisfaction results in increased productivity and profits.  


What are some expectations that employees now have of their employers when it comes to benefits? 

With the everchanging job market, employers are experiencing greater expectations from employees.  Employees feel most valued by employers who foster work-life balance and whole-body health.  By acknowledging and promoting physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being, employees thrive in the workplace.  A variety of health, dental and vision benefits can support employees’ well-being, especially health plan options that offer robust mental health coverage.  

Critical to achieving whole-body health, financial wellness is equally important. Employees have reported higher job satisfaction when employers offer additional coverages for life insurance, short and long-term disability, and retirement investment options. 

Lastly, flexible work schedules provide the work-life balance that employees expect and are a relatively inexpensive business cost.  



Heather Browning, MBA, CRM, CIC has over 27 years of experience in the healthcare insurance industry advising clients and protecting businesses and employees.  In 2000, Heather founded Colonial Benefit Group, an insurance brokerage and business benefit consulting firm, in California.  Under her leadership and vision, Colonial Benefit Group expanded within a few years to Colorado and twelve other states consulting for companies across a variety of business sectors. The keys to her success are built on a foundation of professional ethics and compassion, personalized client service and customized insurance coverages that align with her clients’ needs.  Heather enjoys employing her background in human resources and supporting small businesses and their employees.   

With an ever-changing world of insurance affected by legislation and tax laws, Heather and the Colonial Benefit Group Team work diligently to stay up-to-date and protect their clients’ interests.  Heather focuses her practice on advising employers and organizations on compliance with employee benefit and insurance laws, including ACA, ERISA, HIPAA, and COBRA. She has proudly served on the boards of the Employee Benefit Planning Association of Southern California (EBPA) and the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA). Heather was appointed the Co-Legislative chair for the California Association of Health Underwriters (CAHU) and has been a guest presenter at the Inland Empire Association of Health Underwriters and Palm Desert Association of Health Underwriters and Mile High SHRM. 



Colonial Benefit Group is a separate entity and not affiliated with Charpentier Wealth Strategies/Lincoln Financial Advisors. CRN – 5040688-101822