Benefits news you may have missed: Feb. 1-5

From a serious decline in employee mental health to why employers need to make a COVID-19 vaccine strategy now, here are some of the week’s top stories.
By: | February 5, 2021 • 4 min read
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Mental health numbers ‘going in the wrong direction’: New data shows a serious decline and an all-time low in Americans’ mental health, underscoring a serious problem for employers as they continue to see the toll the pandemic is taking on employees. According to the latest Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition from Total Brain, between November and December there was a 48% increase in the risk of depression—a risk level not seen since this past spring. Further, employees’ focus dropped 62%—a record low since the inception of the research in February 2020. Read more here.

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Mayer: Don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine strategy? It’s time to make one: After nearly a year of living in a pandemic world, there’s finally some good news on the COVID-19 front: vaccines that give us a glimpse of a return to normalcy. But, of course, like everything surrounding COVID-19, it’s not easy: The rollout has been rocky at best, and skepticism and hesitation surround the vaccines. Another complication: Organizations, key in many ways to the success of the vaccines, are slow to implement a COVID-19 vaccine strategy and have yet to decide how or if they will encourage employees to get inoculated, if they’ll provide incentives for them to do so or if they’ll go further and require vaccination among workers. That’s a problem. Read more here.

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Want to convince workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Try money: As many employers consider their COVID-19 vaccination plans and mull how they’ll get reluctant employees to buy into the vaccines, new data points to one effective strategy: money. A new survey from Blackhawk Network, a payments provider, finds that although some 40% of respondents are either unsure about getting the vaccine or do not plan to get it, certain incentives could boost vaccination rates. For as little as $100, one-third of employees will agree to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the survey of 1,105 employees finds. Read more here.

Chobani offering workers paid time off to get COVID-19 vaccine: Food company Chobani says it will offer its workers paid time off to get vaccinated for COVID-19, an early indication of a strategy some employers may take to encourage workers to get inoculated. he yogurt maker, which has roughly 2,200 U.S. workers, says it will cover up to six hours of time for Chobani employees to get vaccinated—three hours for each of the two COVID-19 vaccine doses. It also is looking into hosting on-site vaccination clinics as soon as food processing workers become eligible, the company says. Read more here.

HR leaders report soaring amounts of stress: What’s keeping HR up at night? In a year defined by a pandemic, social and political unrest and a contentious election, well, a lot. A whopping 90% of human resources professionals say their stress has increased in the last year—47% of whom say their stress levels have increased “dramatically,” according to Human Resource Executive’s annual survey of HR professionals. About 9% said their stress levels remained about the same, and just 1% said it decreased. About 830 HR leaders were surveyed. Read more here.

Huffington: ‘Dealing with stress is no longer just a box to check’: There is no question that employees’ collective mental health isn’t good. Rates of burnout, stress, depression and anxiety are up exponentially in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, and research indicates that employee mental health issues are only worsening as the pandemic approaches the one-year mark. “Levels of stress are absolutely astronomical,” Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global, a wellness company that focuses on behavior change technology, said last week during a webinar. “HR doesn’t have to convince the C-suite that this is a problem.” Read more here.

Soundbite: ‘Don’t skip’ annual exams, screenings: As the pandemic causes a significant number of workers to delay or avoid regular healthcare, one industry insider is urging employees to reconsider. “During this time, it’s very challenging to get into your physician or get your annual physical exam. But it’s super important,” Pam Hannon, retirement and healthcare leader at GE Healthcare, said Wednesday at the Midwest Business Group on Health’s Employer Forum on Wellness, Wellbeing & the Workplace, held virtually. Read more here.

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Employee health becomes big employer focus: More than four in 10 business leaders say their biggest priority is trying to keep employees healthy during the pandemic, according to a survey of some 500 company leaders from Principal Financial Group. The data is the latest to indicate the emphasis being placed on employee health and wellbeing during COVID-19. “The global pandemic has brought front-and-center the importance of physical and mental health and how quickly either or both can be taken away,” says Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of specialty benefits at Principal Financial Group. Read more here.

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.