One major repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic is that employees are embracing the voluntary benefits their employers are offering them, but they’d like to see more choices and issues such as mental health and voluntary benefits have risen to the fore.
The Hartford’s “2021 Future of Benefits Study” found that before the pandemic, benefits were mainly viewed as a means of attracting and retaining talent. But the pandemic changed all that due to the stress of having our work and personal lives upended, as well as the widespread suffering and grief that the coronavirus has caused.
The most significant shift that The Hartford noted has been in what employees value most and they would like to see employee benefits cover better:
- Voluntary benefits,
- Mental health and well-being,
- Engagement and technology, and
- Paid leave.
Solid voluntary benefits
Most everyone has felt the personal effects of the pandemic, either contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized or seeing family or friends get sick and check in for treatment. Many have had loved ones die from the disease.
As a result, voluntary benefits have become a larger priority for many workers.
In addition, employees are expressing more interest in supplemental benefits such as critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity insurance and accident insurance. Employers listened and during the last year:
- 36% of companies surveyed added accident insurance, half of them due to the pandemic.
- 32% added hospital indemnity insurance, nearly two-thirds of them adding the coverage in response to the pandemic.
- 29% added critical illness insurance, 84% of which did so due to the pandemic.
- 27% added life insurance, three-fourths of which did so due to the pandemic.
- 21 added long-term disability, nearly two-thirds of them doing so due to the pandemic.
A new focus on mental health
Besides the physical toll that the COVID-19 pandemic took on people who contracted the disease, many have been dealing with mental health and work-balance issues, particularly if they were suddenly thrust into working from home.
That coupled with the overall stress that the pandemic has had on people, has prompted a greater demand for employers to prioritize mental health for their staff. The study found that:
- 59% of workers said their company’s culture has been more accepting of mental health challenges this past year.
- 27% of employees said they struggle with depression or anxiety most days or a few times a week (up from 20% in March 2020).
- 70% of employers now recognize that employee mental health is a significant workplace issue, up from 59% in June 2020.
While the pandemic has brought greater attention to the mental health challenges many workers face, it has also shed light on the opportunities for employers to support their team.
This can be done by ensuring that your health plans include a mental health component, offering your workers an employee assistance program and providing staff with resources, help and education that address wellness and mental health.
Engagement and tech
There was a quantum shift in 2020 to virtual benefits enrollment due to the logistics and danger of turning open enrollment meetings into super-spreader events.
Employers were left having to figure out how to conduct open enrollment and provide benefits education most effectively if a significant portion of their staff was now working remotely. Most employers opted for remote educational and open enrollment events that include teleconferencing and online portals for choosing or renewing health plans.
The survey predicts that the reliance on technology will only increase, with 75% of employers saying their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year.
The Hartford said that personalization would be key to the success of any employee benefits program:
- 58% of workers surveyed said they would like a personalized recommendation for what insurance benefits they should be buying.
- 76% of employers said that they are offering personalized benefit recommendations during open enrollment, up from 71% in June 2020.
- Story-driven enrollment tools can offer an employee context. Presenting the material in a relatable way and tailoring the message based on an understanding of an individual’s benefits needs, influences and life stage, can help someone better evaluate whether a certain benefit is right for them.
Paid time off
Paid time off has become a much hotter topic since the pandemic started. COVID-19 prompted a number of states as well as the federal government to support paid time away from work through new laws and regulations.
Employers also took note, and 75% of them ended up increasing the types of paid time away from work they provided, beyond state and federal requirements.
Here’s what happened:
- 46% of employers expanded their paid medical leave.
- 46% expanded their paid sick time.
- 39% expanded paid family leave.
- 30% expanded paid parental leave.
- 30% expanded paid time off or vacation time.