Are employers doing enough to help workers during the pandemic?

During what’s widely considered the hardest and most stressful time in employees’ lives, workers say their overall wellbeing has declined and they’re looking for more help from their employer. But new research finds many employers are not living up to their employees’ expectations, with many workers saying their organization hasn’t helped them enough during the pandemic.

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According to MetLife’s annual benefits survey, more than half of workers say they’re worried about at least one category of wellbeing. More than a third of employees report feeling stressed at work at least half of the time, while nearly as many say stress has made them less productive.

However, two in five employees don’t feel companies are offering programs and other perks to support their wellbeing. This is despite the fact employees are overwhelmingly looking for support–in particular, benefits support–from their employer: 72% of employees say the safety and protection of themselves and their family are more important now than ever before, and 62% of employees think employee benefits are more important now because of the pandemic, according to MetLife.

“The pandemic has shed a clear light on what employees need from their employers–not only right now, but in the future,” says Todd Katz, executive vice president of group benefits at MetLife. “As the workplace continues to evolve and become more personalized, employers need to heed the wants and needs of their employee, and then reflect these key learnings in benefits and work experiences they provide.”

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Complicating the matter? Employers have a different perception of their workforce’s wellbeing: Nearly three in four employers believe employees are better off than they are, and that disconnect may lead to companies not prioritizing wellbeing as much as needed. Employees are looking, in particular, for financial and mental health help, according to MetLife.

To learn about how employers can help struggling employees during the pandemic, don’t miss HRE’s virtual (and free!) Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, held May 11-13. Register here.

“To drive wellbeing across the workforce, employers need to not only understand the struggles their employees face but also support workers in critical areas,” the MetLife report found. “These include flexibility, communication, safety and protection, and a wider range of benefit options.”

The MetLife research, which surveyed 2,651 workers and 2,500 benefits decision-makers, is the latest to find that employees have been having a rough time during the pandemic. Other research has found that burnout, stress, depression and anxiety rates have soared during the pandemic, along with financial stress and physical wellbeing struggles.

And while scores of employers have beefed up or rolled out new programs to help employees over the last year–with a focus on mental health programs, caregiving programs and sick leave for COVID diagnoses–many experts have said organizations’ efforts have not gone far enough. The MetLife data is the latest evidence of that.

The research, though, finds that employers that do heed the needs of their workforce can expect a significant return on their investment. MetLife found that employees with an adequate benefits package are 42% more likely to feel more resilient. Furthermore, the most resilient employees, when compared to the national average, report feeling more productive (96%), more engaged (91%) and more holistically well (68%).

“Employers and managers have a critical role to play in supporting employee wellbeing,” Katz says. “Providing flexibility, addressing workload concerns and promoting taking time off can make a difference for employees’ overall health.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former 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.