Today's Benefits Portfolio

In The Worksite: New Era, New Values

Workers seek empathy and flexibility in a post-pandemic work world

A new report from Guardian examines how organizations can begin to understand how employees feel and what brought them to this point, and realize how essential this understanding is to building a work culture that provides meaningful support for employees, not only through benefits, but by making them feel that they belong. View the complete report here.

The past two years have brought a series of monumental events to the world. Leading the way was the COVID-19 pandemic, which profoundly affected how people worked and lived. Even though lockdowns have been lifted and most aspects of life are back to normal, for many, recovery isn’t complete.

Added to this, in 2022 alone, there’s been a devastating war in Ukraine, global inflation, rising gas prices, a growing wave of gun violence in the US, and a looming recession. Even some supply chain problems — like the baby formula shortage in the US — have gone beyond being mere inconveniences to affecting many families’ well-being.

It’s become apparent to employers that their old model of benefits is no longer sufficient. The dramatic impact of the events of the past two years has created a very different employee mindset. It has torn up the employer-employee contract that had, until now, endured.

This shifting landscape is reflected in employers’ challenges about what their organizations will face in the year ahead. It’s telling that three out of their top five concerns are about their employees — attracting them, retaining them, and ensuring they’re mentally and emotionally healthy.

Benefits, empathy, and flexibility are close behind salary in terms of what matters most to workers when evaluating employment opportunities

Whether they realize it or not, many employers have already made strides toward providing benefits and policies that employees need. They were forced to do so during the pandemic, which was a difficult time for everyone and prompted many employers to extend more flexibility and empathy toward their workforces. As a result, the Guardian Benefits Value IndexSM (BVI), which measures employee sentiment around how much they value their benefits, is the highest it’s been in a decade.

Understanding how employees feel and what brought them to this point is essential to building a work culture that provides meaningful support for employees, not only through benefits, but by making them feel that they belong. With these concerns in mind, employers are turning their attention to their organizations’ benefits, policies, and programs to ensure what they’re offering meets employees’ needs.

The Anxious American Workforce: How Did We Get Here?

Much has been written on how the pandemic was an unparalleled inflection point for working Americans. In fact, more than two years after it began, half still rate the COVID-19 pandemic as the top source of stress in their lives.

Of course, there are other factors that have also impacted employees’ mindset around their working lives and overall well-being. For example, economic uncertainty has contributed to diminished financial confidence and higher anxiety.

Americans are more likely today than they were a year ago to report being very or moderately worried about their finances. These stressors come on top of coping with a lingering pandemic. While life has always been unpredictable, this perfect storm of stress has created a mentality that the next crisis may be just around the corner, and we probably won’t be prepared for it.

New Realities Alter The Employee Value Proposition

Nearly 3 in 10 workers say they’re very or somewhat likely to leave their job in the next year. Indeed, the Great Resignation is far from over. One potential reason is that, increasingly, workers don’t feel their employers care about them.

There’s also a connection between whether employees feel their employers care about their well-being and how well employees feel their employer handled the pandemic. Among employees who said their employers handled the pandemic well, more than three quarters of them also strongly agree their company cares about them.

This has resulted in a new value proposition among employees in what they need and want from their employers. Attracting and retaining talent today is not only about offering the right products; it’s about ensuring that employees are aware of what’s available to them and engaging with benefits that can help them lead healthier, more secure lives. That, in turn, helps them understand that their employer cares about them — especially key during turbulent times.

1 In 5 Workers Quit Their Job In The Past Two Years Due To Inflexible Hours

Workers who feel their employer supports workforce mental health are more than twice as happy at their jobs as those who don't feel supported...

Before the pandemic, remote work and flexible schedules had been gaining momentum among employers, but mostly as perks granted only occasionally or on a small scale. Most employers couldn’t conceive of implementing them on a larger scale out of concern that productivity and workplace culture would suffer.

The pandemic rapidly turned that notion on its head. While this arrangement presented some challenges, for the most part organizations adjusted successfully.

For many employees, one silver lining to emerge from the pandemic was improved work-life balance due to greater flexibility and empathy on the employers’ part around where, how, and when they worked. Employees want to preserve that; as a result, there’s been a major sea change in their expectations.

This change in lifestyle and workstyle is so important to the workforce that it’s considered the most important benefit that an organization can provide outside of salary and standard benefits. A significant factor is the strong tie between flexible work schedules and better emotional health.

While not without its challenges, flexibility — when, where, and how employees work — is a major priority for most workers, who are driven to seek autonomy and independence in the post-pandemic workplace. Moving forward, employers will need to assess how to foster community, keep remote workers engaged, and provide strong mentorship and coaching when not in person.

Robust Mental Wellness Benefits Are Tied To Better Outcomes And Greater Employer Loyalty

Fortunately, employers are realizing the tremendous need for improved mental and emotional health benefits. Almost a third (30%) of employers cite workforce mental and emotional health as among the biggest challenges their organization will face in the coming year, and nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say addressing their workforce’s mental health is a top priority.

Considering just over a third of organizations offer clinical mental health resources covered by insurance, there’s a clear need for improvement. Employee preferences confirm that: 6 in 10 employees say behavioral/mental health services available through work would be valuable. This was tied with physical wellness resources as their top choice for benefits.

There’s also room for improvement in how prepared managers can be when it comes to identifying and responding to their workforce’s mental health needs. While just over 6 in 10 employers (62%) believe their managers are well-equipped to recognize and respond to mental health issues, just over half say they provide training to managers and supervisors, and a quarter don’t provide training at all.

As difficult as these conversations can be, they’re necessary. Attention must be paid to employee mental health, since mental health is worse among employees who don’t feel that their employer cares about their overall well-being.

Workers Who Understand The Value Of Their Benefits Are More Likely To Appreciate Them

Another way organizations can demonstrate empathy is by ensuring employees have a better understanding of their benefits. Having a clear sense of the value of their benefits and how they can help equips workers to better protect themselves and their families, which, in turn, helps them feel that their employers care. That also improves their satisfaction and overall well-being. Fortunately, employee satisfaction with their benefits offerings is on the rise.

This indicates employers are doing many things well when it comes to benefits packages, such as adding more voluntary and supplemental health products. More options have helped boost employees’ perceived value of their benefits, but there’s still room for greater understanding and participation. This can be done by consciously building a better benefits experience.

Workers who strongly agree their employer cares about their well-being are 4x as likely to report high benefits understanding than workers who disagree.

Creating An Empathetic Culture For A New Era

As the scenarios throughout this report illustrate, every employee has their own set of circumstances and priorities shaping who they are and creating unique pressures that can impact their work and well-being. Their values in an employer have therefore shifted, and the employers who will succeed are the ones who’ll put employee needs first, making workers feel a sense of support and belonging.

The common thread running through the benefits employees expect today is empathy. Fortunately for employers, adapting their benefits, programs, and policies to fit employees’ changed expectations can be a powerful and effective way to attract and retain talent.