What to Expect in Employee Benefits in Canada in 2021


They say change is a constant, and the change over the last year was more constant than usual. But the “new normal” of the post-Coronavirus world means more than just wearing masks when you’re in public and pajamas when you’re at home.

In fact, the extended work-from-home period has introduced different ways of thinking about employee benefits. Canadians today are looking for organizations that can support them and their needs all the way to the end of the pandemic and beyond. Among other innovations, that means virtual services across the board, from virtual medicine to HR enrolment to financial education. It also means paying attention to all aspects of mental health, from financial stress to social isolation to redefined workspaces.

The top trends in employee benefits in 2021 are:

1. A Seamless HR Experience

Not only do HR Information Systems offer cost savings, but they also promote accuracy and efficiency. Many organizations are hoping to tie together the smaller systems they already have with an agnostic HR system to provide a seamless HR experience and help eliminate errors. This type of streamlined system can simplify renewal processes and encourage virtual enrolment, which will push employers ahead as well.

2. Tailoring Solutions to Meet Employees’ Needs

Forward-thinking organizations will differentiate themselves by offering personalized benefits plans based on employee needs. During the early part of the pandemic, that meant support for childcare and elder care and virtual mental health support.  Analytics tools can help employers obtain a deeper, more insightful view of the demographics of their organizations – and they can use that information to provide the right kind of support for their employees, saving money at the same time.

3. A Brave New Virtual Medicine World

There has been greater adoption of virtual services in Canada over the last ten months than there was over the last ten years. And as patients became more comfortable with virtual services, an even greater variety of services opened up. From mental health to physiotherapy, from online pharmacy to fitness, the growth of virtual services has allowed Canadians to use their employee benefits from the comfort of their living rooms. The challenge is balancing the cost: many insurers are choosing which services to bundle together, while plan sponsors often need more control over the price point. Advisors can help by using data to assist their clients in selecting appropriate coverage.

4. An Ounce of Prevention

Like never before, Canadians today are focused on getting well and staying well. They will be seeking out organizations that prioritize prevention of chronic problems, which often drive up costs for massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy. Employers can help by offering guidance on ensuring proper ergonomic home office set-up as a piece of the benefits plan. In addition, they can offer a virtual fitness platform, including fitness classes, challenges and coaches, gamification and recognition.

5. Financial Literacy and Wellness

Canadians are stressed about their finances even in the best of times – and 2020 was more stressful than most years. One way to support employees is to offer classes on financial literacy tailored to each generations’ specific needs. In addition, the financial needs of Boomers are not those of Millennials, so as your workforce changes, your answers will have to change too. At the same time, however, employees will always favour best-in-class advisors who can answer their questions and provide tangible support for them and their families.

6. The Rise in Utilization of Specialty Drugs

Sustainable drug plans depend on successful management of newer specialty drugs, the ones with the $10,000 price tag. As questions arise in real time, plan sponsors and brokers will struggle to navigate the ever-changing specialty drug landscape. Access to up-to-date information on new drugs, their benefits, risks and costs, among other things, will be essential for plan sponsors to manage costs and navigate other drug-related considerations.

7. A DIN for Cannabis?

There is increasing pressure to tighten cannabis regulations and standards in order to reach accepted dosing requirements and standardize them for medical purposes. It is likely that we are approaching a crucial threshold – at which cannabis will likely receive a drug identification number (DIN). Although many creative ways to offer coverage for cannabis have been found, a DIN allows cannabis to be treated as a drug like any other, which significantly lowers the cost to the plan member. Advisors and plan sponsors will be looking for information and guidance on the best ways to handle cannabis coverage in a drug plan. They should use this time to prepare – before the biggest change to drug benefits in decades comes into effect.

2021 Growth and Beyond

In the employee benefits space, the pandemic has brought a number of changes and improvements to organizations across Canada. Employers will need to expand the tools that they have available to them – from data analytics to technology, from prevention to education – to better address their employees’ needs and manage their bottom line.



Robert Taylor is Executive Vice President for Hub International and brings his 32 years of experience as a member of the Group Benefits and Retirement Services leadership team. He works closely with clients helping them transition their potential into an executable long-term strategy rooted in sustainability, member communication and pharmacy management expertise. Rob is a member of Advocis and his committee work with CALU creates advanced benefits education curriculum for their members across Canada. 

J.P. Girard is Executive Vice President for Hub International, with specific responsibilities for the national accounts team in benefits consulting. He has worked in consulting and human resources consulting all across Canada helping clients develop employee programs to promote the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

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