The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it sparked a greater interest in employee benefits and products such as life insurance.
That was the word from a panel at Thursday’s virtual LIMRA Marketing Conference, who presented research findings on how the pandemic influenced employers’ and workers’ views of employee benefits.
The Hartford began research on its report “The Future of Benefits” a few weeks before pandemic restrictions closed many businesses and forced millions of workers to perform their jobs remotely. The study took place in three waves, said Hope McManus, director of customer research, group benefits, with The Hartford.
The first wave was fielded in late February-early March 2020 and focused on employee benefits, paid family leave, workplace culture, mental health and technology use. The second wave was fielded in June 2020 and focused on the impact of COVID-19 on benefits management and enrollment practices.
In the third wave, fielded in February 2021, the researchers asked new questions to explore the impact of COVID-19 on benefits trends, including current and future workplace attitudes and behaviors.
The research uncovered some key trends, including:
- Employees are concerned about taking leave, and stigma surrounding taking time off work continues to be a concern.
- A renewed interest in “bedrock benefits” such as health insurance, group life insurance and disability insurance.
- Promoting a compassionate workplace culture in which there is flexibility and empathy surrounding the whole person.
- Technology to tailor the benefits experience and digital tools to support open enrollment.
New Benefits Added
Three-quarters of employers surveyed said they expanded or added paid time away from work. Among those who gave their workers more time off, 46% added medical leave, 39% offered family leave and 30% added parental leave.
LIMRA did its own survey on employee benefits in the fall of 2020, with half of workers who responded saying they placed a greater value on their benefits than they did prior to the pandemic, said Patrick Leary, LIMRA’s corporate vice president, workplace benefits research.
The toll COVID-19 took on Americans’ health led employers to add new benefits to make sure their workers were better protected financially, said Laura Marzi, chief marketing officer of group benefits with The Hartford.
Nearly 80% of employers said they recognize the rising cost of health insurance and deductibles is having a significant financial impact on their workers. Employers added insurance benefits such as accident insurance, hospital indemnity insurance and critical illness insurance to their benefits offerings.
The Hartford study also found differences in the way various generations of workers view benefits. Generation Z and younger millennials were the most likely to select new benefits in 2021. Older millennials and Generation X were most interested in critical illness insurance, while baby boomers were the least likely to change their benefits selections this year.
LIMRA’s research found a greater interest in wellness benefits. More than half (56%) of workers said health and wellness programs were more important to them since COVID-19 hit. Other wellness benefits that took on greater interest since the pandemic included paid family and medical leave (54%), mental health benefits (53%), employee assistance programs (46%) and caregiver benefits (42%).
The pandemic brought greater attention to the mental health challenges many workers face, The Hartford research found. Seventy percent of employers said they have seen an increased use of EAPs in their workplace this past year.
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.
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