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The Future of Work is Now: 2021 Year in Review

Marthin De Beer

COVID-19 caused a major market transition, fundamentally re-writing the way we work, and led many employees to reevaluate their priorities. Some left for new roles or companies aligned with their values and beliefs. Others searched for jobs with higher pay and better benefits and some took a break from work to focus on other life ambitions. The war for talent spurred by this “Great Reckoning”, along with an increased incidence of employee stress and burnout, has forced employers to reevaluate their culture, benefits, and work environment and to think deeply about how they can better support the needs of their workforce.

In 2021, employee well-being took on a whole new meaning. Wellness programs that address the needs of the “whole person”—including physical, mental, financial, and social well-being—became increasingly important as employers looked to create a positive employee experience and attract and retain talent in a tightening labor market.


Employee Stress Skyrocketed

Employee stress is at an all-time high. Notably, more women (62%) than men (52%) reported feelings of stress on a daily basis, likely due to increased caregiving responsibilities and greater financial uncertainty spurred, in part, by working in industries most disrupted by the pandemic. 

While sources of stress are individual and varied, the BrightPlan 2021 Wellness Barometer survey revealed that finances were the number one cause of stress in employees, with 65% reporting financial stress. Stress in any one dimension of well-being can negatively impact other aspects of well-being, making financial stress and physical and mental health tightly connected.  And the financial impact to organizations can be significant, with financially stressed employees reporting an average of 15.3 hours of reduced productivity and engagement each week, costing U.S. employers nearly $5 billion per week*.

Our current reality calls for organizations to prioritize their employees’ holistic well-being if they want to attract top talent, drive employee engagement, and build an inclusive workplace culture. 


Importance of a Next-Gen Total Rewards Strategy

In response, a growing number of employers are actively looking to promote a culture of care by offering holistic Total Rewards. While Total Rewards programs have traditionally focused on compensation and conventional benefits, such as health insurance and 401(k) plans, the current work reality calls for a new approach. To keep their people happy and engaged, employers must look beyond traditional rewards and provide holistic wellness benefits that truly elevate the employee experience.


How BrightPlan Has Kept Pace with the Future of Work

Expanded access to financial wellness:

As HR teams look to deliver a consistent and positive employee experience across their global workforce, BrightPlan announced that we will be expanding access to our solution in four additional countries. We’ve also extended our offering to the whole family by allowing spouses and dependents to access BrightPlan’s solution and partnered with USI, one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the world, helping more people build positive financial habits and a foundation for financial literacy.


Additional financial planning services:

Employee tax questions can be complex, leading to confusion and underutilization of benefits, such as equity compensation. HR teams are eager to support employees in navigating these complex tax concerns, and this year we expanded our service offering to include tax advice and filing services. We’ve also broadened our estate planning and student debt repayment services, reinforcing our commitment to delivering a comprehensive solution that supports all aspects of employees’ financial lives.


Enhanced investing capabilities:

In an effort to support employees in building long-term wealth in a way that aligns with their personal values, BrightPlan has launched an ESG portfolio and new enhancements to our investing capabilities. 82% of employees want employer-provided investing tools to help reach their financial goals. BrightPlan can guide employees in the right direction with an accountable investment strategy that is aligned with their goals and values.


Industry Accolades:

In 2021, BrightPlan continued to garner industry recognition with several new accolades including the Aite-Novarica Group’s 2021 Digital Wealth Management Impact Innovation Award, Talent Culture’s 2021 HR Tech Award, and The Financial Technology Report’s 2021 Top 100 Financial Technology Company Award. 


Looking Ahead to 2022 and Beyond 

The future of work is now. After nearly two years of remote and hybrid work, companies have had to reinvent their culture and work environment to keep employees happy, productive and engaged during this market transition. The future of successful companies will be defined by how companies respond during this transition. At the same time employees are rethinking the work they do, with a greater emphasis on meaning and purpose. All of this has ushered in a new era of flexibility in when, where and how we work. Employers’ ongoing challenge will be to keep a constant pulse on what matters most to their workforce.

As a result, we expect to see greater emphasis on flexible benefits in 2022. Understanding that each employee has a unique background and experience, employers will provide employees with more options to choose the benefits that are most relevant to them. We also expect support for the entire family unit, and across diverse family structures, to take greater hold, such as backup child care, fertility benefits, adoption assistance, eldercare, and extended parental leave.

As we head into the new year, it is clear that companies must continue to prioritize employee well-being and engagement. Wellness solutions that are holistic and address the physical, mental, social, and financial well-being of diverse employee groups are central to creating more meaningful and lasting emotional connections with employees.

I wish you and your families the very best for the holidays and the year ahead. Be safe and healthy. 


*Assumes there are 94,257,000 knowledge workers in the U.S. with an hourly wage of $35.53. Source: Federal Reserve Economic Dataset. For more information, see the full report.
Disclosure: Awards are not indicative of future performance. Awards, Other Recognitions or Endorsements should not be interpreted as a guarantee or suggestion that a client or prospective client will experience a certain level of results if our firm is engaged, or continues to be engaged, to provide investment advisory services. None of the sponsoring publications or organizations are affiliated with our firm, none of the Awards or Other Recognitions are based on client evaluations of our firm, and we have not made any payments for or in anticipation of any Award, Other Recognition or Endorsement of our firm.