Here’s what employees are looking for from their employers

Among the many lessons of COVID-19 is this: Employees are increasingly looking for help from their employer on ways to make their lives better.

Roughly half of U.S. employees want more help from their employers to save for retirement, balance their work and life issues, and get the most value from their employee benefits, according to new research out from Willis Towers Watson.

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“The pandemic and its economic impact have strengthened Americans’ desire for greater financial security as well as flexibility, and many are looking to their employers for help,” says Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “At the same time, benefit costs have become a sensitive issue. Employees are paying more for benefits, which in turn is squeezing their take-home pay, and [they] need to find ways to lower or stabilize their costs.”

The pandemic has spotlighted a number of employee pain points–from financial struggles and mental health to juggling personal and work life while working remotely. While many employers have stepped up, including those that are enhancing or rolling out new benefits or resources, the Willis Towers Watson survey finds employees are looking for more assistance.

For instance, while the majority of employees are working from home during the pandemic, nearly half of the some 5,000 employees surveyed (43%) say they would like their employers to help with work/life balance issues, while 52% indicated that more generous paid time off, vacation and sick leave at the expense of other benefits would best meet those needs. About four in 10 cited greater flexibility in how often they work (44%) and where they work (40%).

Overall, retirement is the area where employees are looking for the most help–53% identified saving for retirement as the area in which they would most like help from their employers. When asked what would best meet their needs to save for retirement, 53% cited a guaranteed retirement benefit; 42% said receiving more generous retirement benefits in exchange for other benefits and less pay; and 41% said retiree medical benefits. Just over a quarter of employees (29%) said access to other savings and investment products would help meet their needs to save for retirement.

Related: Employees looking for help as pandemic increases financial stress

Getting help with benefit choices also is a top priority, the survey finds. Nearly half of respondents (45%) would like their employers’ help with getting the most value from their benefits. Nearly six in 10 (59%) said offering them a single website that lets them review and manage all of their benefits would allow them to get more value from their benefits. Roughly half (53%) want tools to help them better understand their choices, while 49% want the ability to speak with a benefit specialist when making decisions.

More than a third of respondents (37%) cited reducing benefit costs as their top benefits priority for 2021, followed by receiving greater benefits security from their employer (26%). Roughly two in 10 employees identified receiving more benefit choices (19%) and having more flexibility in where, when and how often they work (18%) as top priorities.

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“Many employees have concerns about the cost of benefits and are looking for assistance from their employers,” adds Jill Knoke, health and welfare benefits outsourcing leader at Willis Towers Watson. “While providing meaningful choices and decision-support tools are not new solutions, they’re a good place for employers to start. By reinvesting in benefit technology and communication, employers can move the needle and help employees better understand their benefit choices, manage costs and ultimately optimize the value of their benefits.”

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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.