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6 ways the pandemic is changing the benefits employees want

The pandemic has changed so many things about work, including the benefits that employees are looking for.

6 ways the pandemic is changing the benefits employees want
[Photo: Space_Cat/iStock]

It’s that time of year again. The weather’s cooler. Pumpkin spice is infused into everything around you. And, for many companies, the employee benefits enrollment period is coming around again.

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In the weeks leading up to this time, many organizations conduct surveys to better understand what employees want in their benefits plans. Here are some of their pandemic-era findings:

Benefits have increased in importance

Benefits are a crucial—and expensive—part of an employee’s compensation package. A new survey by Prudential Insurance found that 52% of employees surveyed would leave their job for one with the “right” benefits. Seventy-seven percent said that benefits are a “key part of their compensation”—that’s 10% more than last year.

That’s largely due to the pandemic, says Leston Welsh, head of business segments at Prudential Group Insurance. “The value that employees are now placing on their workplace benefits is similar to the value that employers are now placing on their ability to operate virtually,” he adds. What was once a “nice to have” is now a “must have.” And, even in an uncertain employment landscape, half of employees could be wooed away for better benefits.

Employees prioritize healthcare

Health insurance was a top priority for respondents of MetLife’s Employee Benefits Trends 2020 survey. Eighty-six percent of respondents called it a “must have.” But employees also want more than garden-variety physical health coverage. Other “must haves” included dental coverage (69%), vision coverage (41%), and disability (41%) coverage. Critical illness and cancer coverage were top priorities for 32% and 23% of respondents, respectively. Prudential Insurance found that they also want some COVID-19-specific benefits, including:

  • Increasing paid sick leave for workers with COVID-19 (48%)
  • Waiving coronavirus testing and treatment co-pays (43%)
  • 24/7 access to health care professionals (24%)

Mental health benefits have also become increasingly important. Employees have struggled with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues during the pandemic. A May survey by business advisory firm Willis Towers Watson found that 77% of companies are offering or expanding access to mental health services.

Workplace safety protocols are expected

A July survey by ASA Safety Monitor and the Harris Poll found that most employees are satisfied with their employers’ responses to the pandemic, especially office cleanliness protocols (85%), remote work policies (82%), and communication about the pandemic (81%). To feel safe at the office, employees want to see:

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  • Social distancing requirements (51%)
  • Detailed cleaning protocols (45%)
  • PPE requirements (41%)
  • Temperature screening (41%)

Flexibility matters

During the pandemic, people have had to blend work in life in new ways. And they want the flexibility to do so. A July survey by Staples found that 40% of workers want flexible hours.

And while you’d think that employees would be tired of working from home, that’s not necessarily so. Three in five workers who have been working from home during the pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, even after public health restrictions are lifted, according to an April Gallup poll. Prudential Insurance’s research found that 68% of American workers say working remotely will become much more normal after the pandemic—and 20% are seriously considering finding a job that allows them to work remotely.

Parents and guardians want childcare help

Childcare benefits are rare, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in demand, especially as parents try to blend work and home remotely. An August survey by Care.com found that, most (85%) working parents surveyed don’t have childcare benefits. But more than two-thirds of those people say they’d consider trading benefits like vacation days, sick days, retirement plan, or dental plans for employer-subsidized childcare. Of those who currently receive employer-sponsored childcare benefits, 37% receive a cash subsidy.

  • 46% receive in-center backup care options
  • 44% receive access to paid platforms to find care
  • 42% receive in-home backup care options
  • 27% receive on-site care

Employees say they’ll reward such benefits: 60% of those who do not currently receive employer-sponsored childcare benefits say that their job performance would improve if they had it and 67% said they’d be more loyal to their company in return.

Focus on financial wellness

Employers are feeling more responsible about their workers’ financial wellness. The number of employers who felt “extremely responsible” jumped to 62% in the latest Bank of America Workplace Benefits Report, compared to 13% in 2013. And more are implementing financial wellness programs that cover a range of topics including planning for health care and retirement costs, budgeting, and managing debt. Eighty-three percent of employers believe that financial wellness programs have a positive impact on employees.

The report also found that 57% of employees said their well-being had a big impact on their productivity. Financial wellness was a part of that equation for roughly half of employees. But overall, employee financial wellness is in decline, according to the report. Just 49% rated it good or excellent, down from 61% just two years ago.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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