In The Worksite

The New Worksite Solutions

How voluntary benefits, flexible work arrangements and wellness programs can help employees thrive in challenging times

by Michelle White

Ms. White is vice president, client management and field development, at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. Visit Colonial Life and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Your clients, like businesses the world over, are battling an unprecedented pandemic. And so are their employees — many of them are finding the usual workday and work-life balance stresses being stretched to the max as they adapt to working from home, juggling home schooling and maybe even caring for sick family members.

That creates another challenge for employers: keeping employees engaged and productive. A new survey by Colonial Life1 shows 40% of America’s workers suffer from high or moderate stress every day, distracting them from work and affecting their productivity. In fact, nearly one in four adults say they spend more than five hours of work time each week worrying.

More than 25% of workers admit their stress makes them less productive at work, and 15% say they’re less engaged. And that’s costing your clients untold thousands of dollars in lost productivity. The top causes of employee stress are finances, according to 21% of those surveyed, and work, named by 20%. A significant number of employees also cite health concerns for family members (17%) or themselves (13%). And worries about money, work and health are rolled into one during the pandemic.

But you can bring solutions to your clients to help their employees navigate these uncharted waters. Here are three strategies that don’t require a major hit to your clients’ bottom line and can pay big returns in worker productivity, morale and health

Recommend Voluntary Benefits

Employee appetite for voluntary benefits is on the rise. The Colonial Life survey showed interest in additional voluntary benefits such as life, disability and accident coverage rose from 14% to l7% in just the past year.

Voluntary benefits help employees with at least two of their top stressors. One, they help bridge the financial gap between what major medical insurance covers and their out-of-pocket costs. Employees can use their benefits for uncovered medical costs such as deductibles and copayments, or nonmedical expenses such as travel for treatment or child care during recovery. And two, voluntary benefits provide valuable coverage for many of life’s common — but unexpected — health events, such as accidents and illness.

Employees don’t necessarily even have to be sick to use their voluntary coverage. Many plans include wellness benefits that pay a set amount for preventive screening tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms and X-rays, so potential problems are caught earlier, when they’re easier and less expensive to treat. The benefits paid for annual screening tests also make the coverage even more affordable, in effect reducing the net cost of the voluntary benefit premiums for employees. The wellness benefit is paid even if the exam is covered by health insurance and the amount doesn’t depend on the actual cost of the test.

Your clients can schedule an effective voluntary benefits enrollment even if most or all of their employees are working from home — including one-to-one professional benefits counseling. Video conferencing, call centers, co-browsing and other digital tools can help workers understand their unique needs, ask questions and enroll in the benefits best for them.

2. Encourage Greater Flexibility

Workers name more pay and more time off as the top two things that would help relieve some of their stress, according to Colonial Life’s survey. But interestingly, those responses are significantly lower this year than when we asked the same question last year:...

Workers name more pay and more time off as the top two things that would help relieve some of their stress, according to Colonial Life’s survey. But interestingly, those responses are significantly lower this year than when we asked the same question last year: higher salary dropped from 67% to 52%, and more time off fell from 50% to 40%. However, workers now have higher interest in a more flexible work schedule (up from 34% last year to 38% this year) and a more flexible work location (up from 20% to 25%).

With many offices closing and shifting to work-from-home scenarios during the pandemic, many employers are finding their workforce can be just as productive with increased flexibility in hours and locations. Encourage your clients to use this time to learn and get prepared for more flexible work arrangements as the “new normal” going forward.

Offer Wellbeing Programs and Services

Another significant change in the survey results year-over-year is greater employee interest in wellness programs and discounts (up from 17% to 23%). A successful wellness program can be measured in fewer sick days, reduced occurrences of preventable chronic conditions and their complications, a more positive work environment, increased productivity and higher employee retention rates due to improved morale.

Results also show up on both your clients’ bottom line and in their employees’ wallets. Estimates from different studies vary, but generally show a return of at least three-to-one for every dollar a company invests in a comprehensive wellness program. And healthier employees spend less on doctor’s office co-pays, prescriptions and other treatments that may not be covered by medical insurance until they meet their deductibles.

A successful wellness program doesn’t have to be expensive. Suggest your clients sponsor a walking club, bring in brown-bag speakers on health topics, and support weight-loss and stop-smoking programs. Other wellness program components to consider include:

  • Employee assistance programs for short-term counseling and referral services to help employees with personal and family issues and work/life balance. Services are typically free and include in-person, phone or online counseling and other online tools and educational resources.
  • Financial assistance programs to provide education, budgeting, counseling and planning advice that helps employees now and in the future.
  • Tele-health services to make getting health care fast, convenient and affordable, especially when in-person visits aren’t possible.
  • Discount programs for drugs and medical services that help employees save money on doctor office visits, prescription drugs, vision and hearing products and services, lab work and imaging tests. A discount program can complement your clients’ existing health or prescription drug plan by helping pay for services that are limited or not covered, especially with a high-deductible health plan that leaves employees with considerable financial exposure to out-of-pocket costs.

Your voluntary insurance provider may be able to offer many of these programs for low or no cost, as part of its value-added services or embedded in its coverages.

And here’s a final bonus tip: The best programs in the world don’t work if employees don’t know about them. Ensure your clients are implementing effective benefits communications strategies that engage employees in all the resources they have to offer. Some voluntary benefits providers offer comprehensive, personalized communication support for your clients’ entire benefits program at no additional cost as part of their services. And remember, high-tech tools make it easy to offer this high-touch support virtually — and safely.

In today’s challenging environment, stress is unavoidable. But you can help your clients’ employees thrive despite the unexpected moments in life by offering affordable voluntary benefits, more flexible work arrangements and vital wellbeing services.


1Online research administered March 23–30, 2020 by Dynata on behalf of Colonial Life among 1,200 U.S. adults.