Increasing workplace diversity will require that organizations take a broader view of the benefits they provide employees.
Affordable Care Act provisions now require organizations to cover essential health benefits like applied behavioral analysis. There are also state mandates that require insurers to cover autism treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 6 children have one or more developmental disabilities, meaning few if any workplaces aren’t affected by the toll raising a child with a developmental disability takes on parent employees.
This has prompted companies to be more responsive to the needs of parents of children with special needs and developmental disabilities like autism, said Mike Civello, vice president of employee benefits at global health technology company, Rethink.
Parents of children with developmental disabilities face innumerable challenges, Civello said. Cobbling together a care team of clinicians for their child and securing child care that’s equipped for special needs children are just some of the things parents and caregivers think about.
“When you couple the financial and time constraints with the realization that there is no cure for autism or most developmental disabilities, employees caring for a child with special needs suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety, marital issues, and work-life balance strain,” said Civello.
Companies can operate in one of three ways to support these parents. Employers can:
- Look for new and innovative standalone services that fall outside given employee health plans.
- Carve out discretionary funds to pay for part or all of the premiums and services rendered in association with certain conditions or events that aren’t covered or are denied coverage.
- Do 1) and 2)
Civello said it all boils down to two types of employers: “Those that put employees first and believe that by doing so their bottom line will benefit, thus creating a synergistic relationship between employee and employer,” and “Those that put their bottom lines first and manage benefits via a spreadsheet looking hard at ROI and cost per employee metrics.”
Benefits decisions are often viewed as a moving target, but that shouldn’t preclude companies from broadening their view of how the services and support they offer can positively affect their employees’ lives. For instance, raising children with special needs, taking care of elderly loved ones, undergoing gender reassignment – while all distinct and very different life experiences – “All of these impact your work and life,” Civello said.
Services and systems for all types of health conditions and experiences from diabetes management to pregnancy tracking to behavioral health therapy are now part of the benefits market. As companies think strategically about the benefits support and administration, technology can help to deliver employee services and benefits.
“We’ve essentially taken behavioral health therapy online,” Civello said, as an example. Using an online platform, Rethink delivers applied behavioral analysis training to parents of children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Using a smart phone or tablet computer, parents can learn how to perform the basic principles of ABA or behavioral intervention therapy. For instance, the system has videos showing how a therapist helps a child with autism learn how to brush their teeth independently or make eye contact.
While nothing can replace high-quality, in-person direct services, technology can mitigate certain realities in the medical community such as the high expense and short supply of services that can lock some families out, Civello explained. More important, specialized programs – including those delivered using digital technology – can help employees through stressful experiences, make an impact on their quality of life and their engagement at work.
But employers have to recognize how their workforce is changing, and develop a strategy to better understand their employees’ diverse needs. “When you’re talking about the human condition, you need to do the right thing by your employees if you want to make the most of a diverse workforce,” Civello said. “That means supporting them at home, supporting their families, supporting their dreams and ambitions.”
Bravetta Hassell is an associate editor for Workforce magazine. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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