COVID-19 Survey Reveals Close to Half of Employers Enhancing Health & Wellness Benefits

While employers are feeling the financial pinch of COVID-19, particularly when it comes to making 2021 healthcare benefit decisions, many are still finding ways to protect the well-being of their employees and bolster their mental health.

Nearly half (47%) of the 817 employers in an April 2020 Willis Towers Watson survey are improving their employees’ healthcare benefits and 45% are enhancing wellness programs because of the coronavirus. “The pandemic has led to high levels of employee anxiety and stress, so employers are making it easier for employees to get help across all aspects of the well-being spectrum,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and well-being leader at Willis Towers Watson.

Many of the companies surveyed—in industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare to financial services—are prioritizing access to mental health services and stress resiliency programs (66% of employers). Others are providing virtual workouts and virtual social gatherings (60%) and promoting healthy nutrition and weight management for employees (50%). More than half (51%) are providing training to managers to help them recognize signs of anxiety and/or depression. Additional employers are seriously considering such programs to raise engagement and enhance productivity.

For those employees still working from home, many employers are investing in ways to help them stay connected and combat feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Videoconferencing capabilities have been expanded for a vast majority of employers (85%), and 73% are offering flexible hours to give employees a chance to better manage work and home challenges such as childcare. Flexibility is also being addressed with leave programs, with 42% of employers making changes to paid time off or vacation/sick leave programs such as increasing carryover hours, allowing negative balances and setting up programs to donate leave time to others.

When it comes to retirement plans, however, some businesses are curtailing benefits. Some (12% of employers) have taken actions to suspend or reduce matching or nonelective contributions to the defined contribution plan, and a larger percentage (24%) are planning or considering them those actions. But for employees facing financial difficulty, employers’ adoption of CARES Act changes is making it easier for employees to access retirement benefits.