Finding the wellbeing silver lining of COVID-19

A high number of employees already weren’t feeling optimistic about their wellbeing before the pandemic hit. And the current COVID-19 crisis will likely cause many more workers to join them.

Less than half of employees (44%) said they felt optimistic about their wellbeing before coronavirus, according to a just-released survey of 2,500 employees from the Business Group on Health and Alight Solutions from December 2019. While the percentage was higher than in years past, experts predict that number is on the decline as more employees struggle as a result of the pandemic.

“Employees are currently in very different places along the wellbeing spectrum, and rightfully so, during these challenging times,” says Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of the Business Group on Health.

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Employees, in particular, are struggling with financial and mental wellbeing. Financial wellbeing is the lowest-rated dimension of wellbeing, with only 40% of employees giving themselves positive ratings, according to the survey. Employee sentiment around overall control over their financial futures–including debt burdens and retirement readiness–also is worsening due to COVID-19’s economic consequences, so employers would be wise to have offerings in place to help.

That finding echoes similar research from MetLife, which found that financial health is employees’ biggest COVID-19 wellbeing concern. That figure makes sense, as 29% of employees surveyed by MetLife 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: 5 things to know about wellbeing and COVID-19

The survey from the Business Group on Health and Alight reiterates a common theme found in other research–that there is plenty of room for growth in wellbeing efforts, and employers that prioritize aspects of wellbeing are better suited to help employees and their company in the process. According to the survey, employees are increasingly placing a higher premium on employer programs that impact their personal and professional lives. Since 2019, employees’ perceived value of wellbeing benefits and programs, decision tools and information sources all increased by at least 10 points.

More employers have been focusing on, and beefing up, wellness efforts as a result of the pandemic. Companies like Ally Financial have handed out one-time payments to help employees with financial stress; others like Starbucks, Pinterest and Cisco have focused on mental health efforts.

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“While employers have been increasingly focused on the diverse needs of their workforce, the global pandemic has and will continue to advance employer strategies that integrate wellbeing into employees’ lives and create great experiences,” says Ray Baumruk, vice president of employee experience research and insights at Alight. “Many employers are taking this opportunity to enhance wellbeing support that ensures their people and their families are cared for during these tough times.”

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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.