The new realities of retention and support
by Kim RudeenMs. Rudeen is vice president of Product Development and Management at Aflac, where she is responsible for leading Product Strategy, Development and Management for Aflac’s supplemental insurance product suite.
After decades of progress, the women’s labor force participation rate dipped to its lowest point in more than 30 years. In fact, more than 2.3 million women have exited the workforce since February 2020. The pandemic holds most of the blame, with many women having to make tough decisions between continuing with their careers or handling increased responsibilities at home.
This presents a challenge for businesses to not only retain and support their female employees, but also attract female talent back into the workplace. Benefits may be a key driver of employees’ overall job satisfaction, as well as their physical, financial, and mental and emotional health, according to the 2021-2022 Aflac WorkForces Report (AWR). One solution for brokers is to help clients ensure benefits programs help address issues pertinent to women.
Financial Woes in Women’s Health Care
Women tend to make health care decisions for themselves and their households, making benefits a crucial topic. However, access to health care alone does not address long-standing financial disparities that persist in the health care system. For many women, financial vulnerability is likely a concern, especially if they experienced personal hardships throughout the pandemic.
Part of this financial vulnerability can be tied to the ongoing wage gap between men and women. In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Yet, women spend significantly more on annual health care than men – with women aged 19 to 34 spending an average of $3,402, compared to just $1,891 for men.
Because of these issues, it is no surprise that medical costs are a concern. In fact, 1 in 4 (24%) women report having had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months, with over half (57%) saying this was due at least in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aflac data also shows that just under half (49%) of female workers reported having high anxiety about health care costs beyond what their insurance covers. They are bringing these concerns with them to the workplace, with 37% of women agreeing that their personal mental health has negatively impacted job performance over the last year.
Support Women Needing to Step Away
Helping to lessen stress associated with having to choose between family and work could be appreciated as an initiative to support female workers and their health. Brokers have an opportunity to enter into this conversation with clients and help them offer benefits supporting everyone in their workforces.
One area is in workplace absences. As women continue juggling their careers with personal obligations, this could result in reduced work schedules or unexpected leave. These periods of leave cause undue stress for the 81% of U.S. employees who do not have access to paid family leave through their employers.
Brokers can counsel clients to offer short- and long-term disability options, which help provide income protection should they miss work due to a covered illness or injury. One solution for businesses may be an absence management program to help manage paid and unpaid leave. This can help minimize the impact of worker absenteeism and ensure compliance with complex federal, state and local regulations.
Offer Many Forms of Care
High health care costs continue to be a concern for women and their families. Another way employers can help their current and prospective employees manage rising health care costs is through supplemental insurance, since it helps fill in the gaps with expenses health insurance may not cover. Many plans include a wellness benefit paying policyholders cash for certain preventive care measures, helping address financial concerns so insureds can stay on top of their health.
Insurers like Aflac may offer access to financial and wellness resources, as well. For instance, an employee assistance program provides support from work-life specialists, who can help find short-term child-care services or mental health counseling solutions. Other relevant services include wellness support, telehealth and telecounseling, and access to a health care advocate for assistance with bill negotiations or answering insurance coverage questions.
Joining the Conversation
Initiatives supporting current and returning female workers and their health continue to grow. Brokers have a fantastic opportunity to enter into this conversation with clients and help them offer benefits supporting everyone in their workforces.
 National Women’s Law Center, Another 275,000 Women Left the Labor Force in January. https://nwlc.org/resources/january-jobs-day-2021. Accessed on Sept. 8, 2021.
 The 2021-2022 Aflac WorkForces Report is the 11th annual Aflac study examining benefits trends and attitudes. Conducted by Kantar on behalf of Aflac, the employer survey was conducted online June 28-July 14, 2021, and the employee survey was conducted online June 28-July 16, 2021. The surveys captured responses from 1,200 employers and 2,000 employees across the United States in various industries. For more information, visit aflac.com/awr.
 Pew Research, “Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020.” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts. Accessed Sept. 8, 2021.
 Benefits Pro, Infographic: Women pay more for health services, get less. https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/06/13/infographic-women-pay-more-for-health-services-get-less/?slreturn=20210808114350. Accessed on Sept. 8, 2021.
 Kaiser Family Foundation. “Women’s Health Care Utilization and Costs: Findings from the 2020 KFF Women’s Health Survey.” https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/womens-health-care-utilization-and-costs-findings-from-the-2020-kff-womens-health-survey/.” Accessed Sept. 15, 2021.
 National Partnership for Women and Families. “At some point, nearly everyone will need to take time away from work to deal with a serious personal or family health condition, or to bond with a new child.” Accessed Sept. 8, 2021. https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/economic-justice/paid-leave.html.
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