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Series of surveys fielded in early March, and again in June, provide insights into the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on employee benefits
Employer interest in offering additional benefits increases to meet employee needs
New research from The Hartford, a leader in employee benefits and absence management, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how both employees and employers feel about benefits. Although many employees continue to view their benefits positively, both their perceived value of the benefits provided and their trust in the company to make the best benefits decisions have declined.
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The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Study, which polled U.S. workers and human resources benefit decision makers in early March 2020 just before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and again in mid-June, found 73% of employees now say they value the insurance benefits their company offers them, down from 80% three months earlier.
In addition, 55% of employees say they trust their company is making the best decisions about the benefits available, compared to 61% in wave one of the study. When asked to rate their organization's overall benefits package compared with what other employers are offering in their marketplace, only 44% rate their benefits as above average compared to 56% in wave one.
"The pandemic has put pressure on the American workforce in ways few could have predicted and employees need support more than ever," said Jonathan Bennett, head of Group Benefits at The Hartford. "Now is the perfect time for employers to address employees’ changing attitudes about benefits. As employee familiarity with benefits also declined, our research uncovered an opportunity for employers to increase trust by focusing more on communication, including education about their available benefits and what they cover. This is going to be crucial as annual benefits enrollment quickly shifts from an in-person experience to a more virtual one."
Employers are stepping up
As a result of the pandemic, employers recognize the need to do more for their workforce when it comes to benefits. More employers say they are likely to offer additional benefits and services not currently offered by their company. Overall, this brings employers’ plans closer to employees’ desire for these benefits.
Employers had the greatest increased interest in the following benefits from wave one to wave two of the study:
Paid time off (PTO) for volunteering (20% to 42%)
PTO (31% to 52%)*
Employee assistance programs (EAP) (38% to 56%)
Paid sabbatical (21% to 38%)
Hospital indemnity insurance (34% to 48%)
Critical illness insurance (36% to 50%)
Student loan repayment plans (27% to 38%)
Behavioral/mental health services (42% to 51%)
Wellness benefits (42% to 51%)
Pet insurance (22% to 29%)
More employers are also taking responsibility for ensuring that their employees understand the benefits that are offered by their company. In wave one of the study, 63% of employers said they were either mostly or fully responsible for making sure employees understand the benefits offered, compared to 69% in wave two.
Top stressors shift, employees satisfied with employer’s response to the pandemic
The pandemic has caused employee stress factors to shift from the workplace to more personal reasons. Employee stress factors such as social/political climate (increase from 11% in wave one to 25% in wave two), caring for family members (8% to 12%) and debt (18% to 26%) have all increased since March. Although workload remains one of the top stressors for employees, there was a 31% decrease in the number of employees who chose this as a top three stress factor since March (45% to 31%).
Overall, employees feel satisfied with their company’s response to COVID-19, with nearly two-thirds (65%) agreeing that their company’s overall response to the pandemic has been adequate. Nineteen percent of employees said they neither agree nor disagree that their company’s overall response to the pandemic was adequate.
Employees express the most satisfaction with employers in regard to maintaining communication with employees (68%) and the least satisfaction with flexibility in response to employee needs (child/family care) (59%). Employees are also satisfied with their employers when it comes to:
Taking steps to ensure a safe return to work experience – 64% of employees satisfied
Creating a supportive working environment – 63%
Listening to employee concerns – 61%
The transition to virtual enrollment and education
How employers will educate their workforce about benefits and facilitate enrollment is also changing. Not surprisingly, 63% of employers say their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year due to COVID-19, the study found. Smaller employers (those with fewer than 50 employees) are the least likely to depend more strongly on online resources (42%).
"We’ve seen employers begin to transition to more digital tools over time but for many, the shift to a more virtual experience has been accelerated due to the pandemic," Bennett said. "At The Hartford, we continue to invest in research, data capabilities and digital tools to ensure our employer customers have the necessary resources and support as they rely more on technology to offer virtual enrollment experiences for the upcoming benefits season, some for the first time."
To help employers successfully transition to the virtual experience and help ensure employees have what they need to make the best decisions about their benefits, The Hartford has enhanced its enrollment experience, including:
A newly optimized MyTomorrow® online education center, which provides employees with timely, tailored benefits guidance based on their unique needs;
A seamless transition from in-person to virtual benefits fairs, providing the same detailed content about an employee’s benefits options, from the convenience of home;
Live and pre-recorded webinars and one-on-one or group consultations with benefits counselors; and
A cost calculator to estimate product affordability.
Insuring more than 20 million Americans, The Hartford is a leading provider of employee benefits products and services, including leave management, group life and disability insurance, as well as other voluntary products. For more information, visit www.thehartford.com/groupbenefits.
The Hartford’s 2020 Future of Benefits Study was an online survey fielded in two waves. The first wave was fielded from Feb. 27 – March 13, 2020, just before the pandemic escalated in the United States, and included 761 employers and 1,503 employees. The second wave was fielded from June 15 – June 30, 2020 and included 567 employers and 1,038 employees. The employers surveyed were HR professionals who manage/decide employee benefits and employees surveyed were actively employed. The margin of error is employer +/- 4% and employee +/-3% at a 95% confidence level.
*Note: While the difference was significant, the sample size on PTO was much smaller than other options as most employers surveyed already offered some type of PTO.
About The Hartford
The Hartford is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity. More information on the company and its financial performance is available at https://www.thehartford.com. Follow us on Twitter at @TheHartford_PR.
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., (NYSE: HIG) operates through its subsidiaries under the brand name, The Hartford, and is headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. For additional details, please read The Hartford’s legal notice.
Some of the statements in this release may be considered forward-looking statements as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We caution investors that these forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance, and actual results may differ materially. Investors should consider the important risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ. These important risks and uncertainties include those discussed in our 2019 Annual Report on Form 10-K, subsequent Quarterly Reports on Forms 10-Q, and the other filings we make with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We assume no obligation to update this release, which speaks as of the date issued.
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