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Flexibility First — How Personalized Benefits Enable Employees to Take Control of Their Wellbeing in the Post-Pandemic Workplace.

COVID-19 has completely disrupted the workplace and forced employers to prioritize the health and wellbeing of employees like never before. While we don't yet know what the workplaces of the future will look like, one thing is certain. The post-COVID-19 workforce has a new set of wellbeing requirements centered on flexibility. Within this environment how can you design and deploy useful benefits that your workforce will want and need?

Many employees would describe the past few years as the most stressful period of their working lives. Pay cuts, furloughs, job losses, social and civic unrest, and the pressure of caring for loved ones while trying to perform at work has pushed people’s resilience to the limit. While workplace benefits have always been important, the pandemic has changed what workers value[1]. Employers increasingly are assessing how their health and wellbeing programs help keep employees engaged.

In this article, we explore how freeing employees to take control of their own benefits plan improves workplace productivity, enhances employee loyalty and attracts new talent to the workplace. We also see how Shopify is reaping the rewards of allowing employees to leverage their benefits on what they need to stay well.

With insights from:

  • Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist, Talent Operations, Shopify
  • Kelly Ryan, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions
  • Jim Winkler, Global Advisory & Specialty Leader, Aon Health Solutions


Exploding the Myth of ‘Work Life Balance’

Kids barging in during Zoom calls. A team member’s dog barking loudly in the background. If the pandemic showed us one thing, it’s that work and life are not separate spheres that can be kept apart. They are intimately linked and issues that arise in one affect what we do in the other.

In fact, our 2021 Global Wellbeing Survey[2] saw employers put work life balance top of the list of the wellbeing challenges they currently face.



With this insight in mind, it’s essential to remember that employees don’t leave their home life at the office door when they go to work, especially when that door is to their own home office. They bring their worries in with them and that affects their productivity, as also referenced in the 2021 Global Wellbeing Survey.

So rather than requiring employees to design their lives around the demands of work, now could be the time to give them the opportunity to design work around the demands of their lives.

As Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist at Shopify suggests, should we replace the phrase ‘work life balance’ with the more appropriate ‘work life harmony’?


The Future of Work and Benefits is Flexible

The pandemic has forced employees across the world to endure huge upheaval and challenges to their wellbeing. In response, many employers embraced a flexible approach to work, and as we emerge from the pandemic many employees now expect the same rules to apply.

Employers that offer flexibility in how, when and where work gets done will be very attractive to current and future employees. Recognizing that the ways we work are changing, Shopify introduced its Digital by Design initiative.


‘Shopify’s Digital by Design remote work model represents a digital-first way of thinking, working, and making decisions. It allows Shopify employees the flexibility to determine where and when they want to work, and how to make the most impact, and it’s up to employees to set these expectations and goals with their respective teams. In addition to going Digital by Design, we also introduced Destination 90, a program allowing staff to work remotely from almost anywhere in the world for up to 90 days per calendar year and support them on their journey. This approach has opened opportunities for employees to truly design a life that works best for them.

Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist, Talent Operations, Shopify


This flexibility extends to benefits too. It’s clear that the age of the one-size-fits-all approach is all but over.


‘Based on our surveys, the traditional or static benefit offerings no longer suffice. Employers need to be nimble, flexible, and personalize the benefits plan that they provide for their employees.  Attraction, retention, and engagement are all influenced by one’s attitude towards their benefit plan offering.  Our future workforce will expect this personalization and we think employers that look at the needs of the new workforce, those of all generations and needs, will have the advantage in the long game.

Kelly Ryan, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions


Employers should try to provide an array of benefits that meet employees’ needs, then give employees the ability to modify those benefits when their needs change. It allows the employee to take responsibility for their wellbeing, while being supported by their employer in the background.


‘When we think about how to create a more resilient workforce, part of that is ‘how do we give people the tools and resources in an easy to use, compelling way that allows them to embrace them as their own and feel good about them as their own right?’ Wellbeing is not something somebody is doing to me; it's something you're making available for me to do for myself. When I can do that and have that favorable experience, as long as you've chosen your vendor partners properly, you'll achieve better clinical results and better financial results. But you have to get the experience part right.’

Jim Winkler, Global Advisory & Specialty Leader, Aon Health Solutions


Static benefits such as gym memberships and childcare perks are not suitable for everyone, so Shopify introduced a $5,000 flex pot spending allowance, giving its workforce greater flexibility and choice in how they look after themselves and their families.


‘When it comes to benefits and wellness it's very personal, we all have different needs. Somebody who doesn't have children may not be interested in a childcare perk that will go unused. Our flex-spending model aligns to our strategy and approach of offering inclusive and flexible benefits and perks. This includes understanding that employees have different needs, they have different desires for how they want to leverage their benefits and what they need to be well. A flexible approach empowers employees with the decision of spending their money in a way that supports their values, and having the flexibility to choose what they want to spend it on.’

Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist, Talent Operations, Shopify


Incorporating flexibility into benefits planning lets employees know that they are seen as individuals and that your organization genuinely cares about them. In the competitive job market this can provide a real point of difference and help towards becoming an employer of choice.


‘There's a real war on for talent today in Canada, and employees will gravitate towards an organization that provides a benefit plan that is personalized to them with tailored offerings, like Shopify’s flex perks.  Employees are looking for a benefits plan that is flexible provides options and is personal.  So, when you provide that flex cash, or flexible spending option that the Shopify plan offers, it really allows them to build the benefit plan around their needs versus what the employer says that their needs should be.’

Kelly Ryan, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions


Be Guided By the Data

You can’t plan a journey without knowing your starting point. So before you begin designing, customizing and implementing flexible benefits plans it’s important to understand the fundamental health and wellbeing issues in your organization. After all, you won’t know how successful your new plans are if you don’t have a baseline to measure against.

This is where the role of data is crucial.


‘We very often talk to clients about doing an integrated data analysis to gain credible insights into the overall health of their employee population. At Aon, our “3 C Alignment”: Claims, Conditions and Costs, provides this important analysis. This approach applies data from a number of sources including drug utilization, disability and EAP.  This provides that holistic view, summarizing the conditions impacting employees and then focusing efforts on modifiable behaviors.’

Kelly Ryan, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions


When Shopify was considering the introduction of its flex-pot spending allowance, it was data that justified its decision.


‘We did a lot of research including interviews with employees to understand what they look for when selecting their benefit plans. We had really positive feedback when we offered folks a lump sum of money that could be used in the way that made the most sense in their lives, and gave them the flexibility to adjust this each year, depending on their changing needs’. 

Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist, Talent Operations, Shopify


So data has a key role to play in establishing a baseline for employee wellbeing and for finding out what employees want from their benefits. But it’s also crucial in helping with buy-in to flexible benefits plans from business leaders.


‘So, it's really about understanding and using that data to explain to your leaders what are the key problems that we're actually trying to solve and using the power of storytelling to humanize it.’

Chivon John, Global Wellness Specialist, Talent Operations, Shopify


Use data to understand what problems that employees face, then frame it with real life stories from the workforce to explain the problems you’re trying to solve to business leaders. Real people with real voices add a compelling story to data when trying to help leaders understand the importance of wellbeing.

Once you’ve identified the conditions affecting your workforce and received buy-in from leaders for your plans, you can include wellbeing offerings designed to address those conditions and roll them out to the workforce. You’ll then want to repeat the analysis in a year or two to understand the impact your strategies have had on workforce wellbeing and other key organizational metrics, including workforce retention and engagement

Employee wellbeing is a never-ending journey. That is why continuous collection and analysis of relevant data is critical to ensure employees’ needs are met throughout every stage of their careers.


The Way Ahead

It will be some time before the full fog of the pandemic lifts, and we have a sense of the staying power of changes to the workplace and employee benefits. For example, it remains to be seen whether remote and hybrid working arrangements will be a permanent fixture. However, it will be a brave employer who insists that everything should go back to the way things were before.

Having overcome so many significant challenges to their wellbeing, many employees want the ability to choose what work looks like for them. As well as deciding how, where and when to work, employees also want the freedom to choose the benefits that allow them to bring their best selves to work every day.

As Shopify’s flexible approach to work routines and employee benefits shows, those organizations which recognize that every employee is unique, and that offer the flexibility that many people now expect, will be the ones who attract the best talent. By sharing responsibility and control for wellbeing with their employees, they are set to benefit from improved productivity and an enhanced bottom line, both now and into the future.


Sharing Responsibility and Control - Next Steps for People Leaders:

  • Understand that the pandemic has changed what employees value about work.
  • Explore the fundamental health data of your workforce to gain a baseline measure.
  • Integrate flexibility into your benefits programs – from hire to retire.
  • Encourage and support employees to take care of their own wellbeing.
  • Talk to employees to understand what’s important to them.
  • Use feedback and data to continuously measure success and develop your benefits offering.


If you invest in the wellbeing of your people, they will invest in the wellbeing of your business.

[1] Changing Expectations: How the Pandemic Has Affected What Employees Want From Their Benefits Programs

[2] Global Wellbeing Survey, April 2021