Article: Employee priorities have changed. Are your benefits keeping up?

Employee Relations

Employee priorities have changed. Are your benefits keeping up?

This shift in voluntary benefit offerings not only aligns with the needs of a post-pandemic workforce; it also addresses a change in generational priorities.
Employee priorities have changed. Are your benefits keeping up?

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the way we work, it’s changed how employees measure and value their benefits. As more employees seek out workplaces that demonstrate purpose, meaning, and empathy, more employers are finding success by adopting a holistic approach. They’re focusing beyond traditional core healthcare benefits and embracing voluntary benefits that encompass wellness, lifestyle, and (perhaps most crucially) mental health. 

As the world and the workplace continue to reopen amid continued uncertainty and fear, savvy employees and talented candidates are continuing to shift their priorities away from the basic meat-and-potatoes style benefits. Now they’re looking for empathic and insightful solutions that focus on needs that the pandemic brought to the forefront. 

The growth of voluntary benefits

This shift in voluntary benefit offerings not only aligns with the needs of a post-pandemic workforce; it also addresses a change in generational priorities. As opposed to previous generations, 57% of millennials and 65% of Gen Z workers are likely to look for a new job with better benefits, according to Unum research. More telling perhaps, one recent employee benefits survey found that if people had to choose between a high-paying job and a lower-paying one with quality health benefits, 88% of employees would consider the lower-paying job. 

That increase doesn’t just apply to new hires, either. Over 7 in 10 employees (71%) said that they would be taking a closer look at their voluntary benefits as a result of COVID-19. Additionally, over half (53%) of those employees planned to make changes to their benefits coverages. 

In 2018, only 33% of employers considered voluntary benefits part of their employee value proposition. Since then, the concept of voluntary benefits is no longer just the cherry on top of an already competitive offer to job candidates and employees. Today, they’re an expected addition to a standard benefits plan. Today, a whopping 94% of employers say voluntary benefits are part of their employer value proposition. No wonder the marketplace continues to expand with supplementary benefit offerings. 

How the pandemic made mental health a bigger priority

Even before the pandemic, surveys about trends in benefits, like one from SHRM, found a five-year increase in all things wellness. Mindfulness, meditation, and other solutions focused on mental health were all rising toward the top of employee benefit priorities.

During the pandemic, the demand for  employee mental wellbeing support grew exponentially. Entire workforces that were office-based have become “remote first,” and frequently changing requirements such as social distancing and masking have uprooted everyday routines and increased stress.

The result? Mental health support has become crucial to navigating the new world of work. 

Powerful stats in favor of mental health support

As a result, it’s never been more important for employers to focus on employee mental health. Since the pandemic began, about 2 in 5 U.S. adults have reported symptoms of either anxiety or depression — that’s significantly higher than the 1 in 10 who reported these symptoms at the beginning of 2019. That stress is also compounded for many job types. One study found that 42% of essential workers reported needing help with mental health–related symptoms, compared with 30% of nonessential workers.

Those numbers also have ramifications beyond what they say about employee wellness or HR’s role. They carry real financial implications too: .  The global cost of lost productivity, absences, and turnover caused by untreated mental health issues is already estimated to be about $2.5 trillion annually. On the other hand, a recent study on “effective mental health initiatives” showed voluntary mental health benefits return an average of over $4 for every $1.

Stay ready for what’s next

The new world of work requires a new approach to benefits, and top talent will continue to look for companies whose priorities match their own. Creating robust voluntary benefit offerings, including mental health initiatives, starts with a holistic approach. You’ll need to consider solutions that encompass your entire organization as well as data-driven programs that empower employees across the board. 

It’s important to stay in step now, so your organization doesn’t get left behind. There’s no going back, only planning for the future. 

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Topics: Employee Relations, Strategic HR, #GuestArticle

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