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Employers Expanding Benefits and Communications About Them

Employers are improving their benefits offerings and plan to continue to do so beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This was a key finding in the Hartford’s “Future of Benefits Study,” which polled United States workers and HR benefits leaders in early March ahead of the outbreak and then again in mid-June. Employers had the greatest increased interest in the following benefits from wave one to wave two of the study:

  • Paid time off 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.

The survey also found that 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. Nearly 20% of employees said they neither agree nor disagree that their company’s overall response to the pandemic was adequate.

Employees expressed 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%.

How employers will educate their workforce about benefits and facilitate enrollment is also changing. Not surprisingly, 63% of employers said their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year due to COVID-19. 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,” said Jonathan Bennett, head of Group Benefits at The Hartford.


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