5 things to know about wellbeing and COVID-19

What to know about supporting employees during the pandemic, according to MetLife’s annual benefits report.
By: | June 8, 2020 • 3 min read

The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly touching every aspect of work and human resources—and benefits and wellbeing is no exception.

The vast amount of employees are under a great deal of pressure and emotional stress, and many are turning to their employers and their benefit offerings to help them.

“Now more than ever, it’s critical to understand employees’ needs,” says Todd Katz, MetLife’s executive vice president of group benefits. “In this time of crisis and beyond, providing a mix of benefits and programs can help mitigate stress, improve employees’ holistic wellbeing and support them when they need it most—which in turn can help bolster engagement and loyalty from the workforce.”

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So what are employees’ biggest wellness concerns? And are employers helping enough? Here are five important findings about those topics and more from MetLife’s annual benefits study.

Financial health is employees’ biggest COVID-19 wellbeing concern. More than half of employees (52%) say finances are their biggest wellness concern in wake of the coronavirus pandemic—more than any other aspect of their wellbeing, including physical (44%), mental (44%) and social health (44%). That figure makes sense, as 29% of employees surveyed say they now earn less as a result of COVID-19. Meanwhile, 38% say their employment status has been directly impacted by the pandemic, and an additional 36% expect to be impacted in the future.

Related: Financial health is workers’ biggest wellness concern

Employers are falling short in terms of offerings. According to MetLife, 41% of employees feel their employer does not currently offer benefits or programs that help support or improve their wellbeing during this challenging time, while 77% say there are benefits or programs that, if offered by their employer, would ease their stress and improve their wellbeing. “Across industries, employers have an opportunity to be a source of support for employees facing unprecedented challenges by offering tools and resources to address their immediate concerns,” Katz says.

Employees say their employers have a responsibility to help them. An analysis of pre-COVID-19 data from late 2019, compared to data from April 2020, shows that employees are now more likely to believe their employers have a responsibility to address their health and wellbeing (73% pre-COVID-19 versus 80% during COVID-19), particularly when it comes to their financial wellbeing (40% pre-COVID-19 versus 47% during COVID-19). Employees point to employer-offered benefits and programs as a crucial way to ease their stress and improve their wellbeing now and in the future.

Top benefits employees want. Employees say offering flexible work hours is a top action their employers can take to help alleviate their stress and increase their wellbeing. In terms of benefits, employees say mental wellness programs (such as an employee assistance program), life insurance and insurance benefits that offer lump sum or cash payments, such as hospital indemnity or critical illness insurance, would help to ease their stress, if offered by their employer.

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Employers who show heightened support during COVID-19 will benefit. The COVID-19 pandemic has required employers to show heightened support for their employees, and those who do are seen more favorably, MetLife’s study found. Respondents who felt their employers are “doing enough” or going “above and beyond expectations” related to support during the pandemic feel more holistically well than those who say their employers have not done anything nor indicate any plans to start (58% versus 31%). Those workers also report feeling more productive, engaged, valued and appreciated.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.