As the pandemic passes the six-month mark in the US, new trends and insights in benefits are emerging. Employees are grappling with unprecedented stress and continued uncertainty. Faced with difficult choices in business continuity planning, employers are focusing on the cost-benefit of support for employees. Here’s a closer look at what advisers and employers need to know.

Support for employees matters—a lot

Research is confirming what employers and employees already know: support for employees matters now more than ever.

Although workplace burnout and chronic stress have been affecting employees for some time, the pandemic has changed the nature of stress. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 84% of adults say their lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. [1] During this period, stressors have shifted from the workplace to home as employees face constant distractions and increased worry over childcare, remote learning, job security and more.

This disruption cuts across employee levels, ages and roles, meaning that workers at all levels are having difficulty coping. But there is also insight that is immediately actionable: support for employees makes a difference. Employees who agree that their employers support their physical and mental health needs still report diminished productivity: 39% report being less productive. But that percentage is far less than for employees without employer-provided support: over 70% of these employees admit that productivity is down. [2]

The case for support for employees

Certainly, there is a clear connection between perceived employer support, employee productivity and employee well-being. Said another way, employees who feel supported by their employers report higher levels of engagement and productivity—and feel more valued. [3]

Recent research reveals that employees register a lack of support: over 60% of US workers report that their employer could do more to support their emotional and mental health during the pandemic. [4]

While many employees continue to view their benefits positively, there are growing indications of decline in the perceived value of provided benefits: 73% of employees report valuing their insurance benefits in mid-June, down from 80% in March according to a survey by The Hartford. [5] In addition, some employees are signaling that they doubt their employers’ ability to make the best benefits decisions for them. The Hartford [6] found that 55% of employees in mid-June expressed trust in their employers’ decisions, down from 61% in March.

Meeting these emerging needs requires benefit flexibility to create the right support for employees. One-size-fits-all primary plans can’t fulfill these needs in this evolving normal. Taking a holistic approach to benefits and employee well-being can help employers meet changing needs, and it can ultimately help employees feel more valued by their employers. [7] In addition, this proactive approach to benefits and well-being can help employers protect productivity during and after this period.

Trend: Increasing support for employees

As they recognize the need for support for employees, savvy employers are stepping up. This trend had emerged even before the pandemic. In late 2019, research revealed that nearly 75% of employers had prioritized support for mental health and well-being. As 2020 has unfolded, employers are taking proactive measures to increase support for employees. Findings from a recent study show that: [8]

  • 77% of surveyed employers are offering or expanding access to virtual mental health support
  • 60% have put easy-to-use virtual benefits like workouts in place to support employees working at home
  • Nearly half are enhancing healthcare benefits
  • 45% are expanding well-being programs
  • 33% are planning changes to paid time off or vacation programs

There is another emerging trend the pandemic has further exacerbated: the financial strain employees face when it comes to rising healthcare costs. Healthcare costs top the list of household expenses that workers worry about being able to afford. [9] In addition, findings from the same source in February 2020 reveal that: [10]

  • Two-thirds of insured adults report concerns about paying for unexpected medical bills
  • Half worry about being able to afford their deductibles
  • 45% fret about paying for the cost of prescription drugs
  • 40% are concerned about paying healthcare insurance premiums

Facing financial strain from healthcare costs and the pandemic, many employees may be questioning the value they get from their healthcare coverage and benefits. As the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt, employers may move away from plans with a high level of cost-sharing, reversing the trend of the last 10 to 15 years. [11]

The need for benefit flexibility

Emerging trends from recent research provide insight into current employee stress and the need for support. As forward-thinking employers and advisers enter primary plan renewal season, benefit flexibility should be top of mind. Expanding support for employees is essential and robust supplemental health insurance benefits can be a way to provide it while managing health plan costs.

Targeted, regular benefit communications to employees can help to encourage greater awareness and understanding of available benefits, which according to research [12] can help to strengthen perceived support as well as holistic employee well-being.

Of course, business continuity planning remains essential during and after this period of uncertainty. Benefit flexibility can help employers make mental health support a critical part of their continuity planning; without such support, according to research, [13] businesses risk adverse impact on employee health and productivity.

This period of high stress will end. But it’s not certain when. The present is an opportunity for employers to enhance benefits, provide support for employees and build trust, engagement and loyalty.

Looking for benefit flexibility? ArmadaCare’s wide range of supplemental insurance benefits include plans for broad needs like closing coverage gaps, as well as targeted needs like support for mental health and well-being. Coverage is determined by the employer. In addition, ArmadaCare’s plans provide valuable timing flexibility: they can be put in place the first of any month all year—meaning there is no reason to not meet emerging and high-priority employee needs now and into early 2021.

Learn more about our wide range of supplemental health insurance plans.

[1] EBA, 2020

[2] EBA, 2020

[3] MetLife Employee Benefit Trends, 2019-2020

[4] Pearl Meyer, 2020

[5] The Hartford: Future of Benefits, 2020

[6] The Hartford: Future of Benefits, 2020

[7] MetLife, 2019-2020

[8] Willis Towers Watson, 2020

[9] Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020

[10] KFF, 2020

[11] BenefitsPro, 2020

[12] MetLife, 2019-2020

[13] HR Executive, 2020