This year’s open enrollment season for workplace benefits is seeing more than one-third of workers saying they want more guidance and support in choosing benefits than they did before the pandemic hit.
That was one of the findings from the inaugural Workplace Wellness Study conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research.
“This is not the time for brokers to pare back or be passive on enrollment support, said Lisa Greenwald, CEO of Greenwald Research. She added that the survey showed eight in 10 of the workers surveyed said they want to meet with an advisor to help with their benefits enrollment, while nine in 10 said they would work with an online tool if it were free of charge.
Two in three employees reported they feel stressed when thinking about their financial future. Nearly half of employees are concerned with their household’s financial well-being, citing saving for retirement and having emergency savings as top sources of financial stress. Yet only 42% of employees are satisfied with their financial wellness benefits and would not trade them with their wages; an equal share would be willing to have fewer financial wellness benefits for higher wages.
“Seven in ten employees believe employees need their employer’s help to be healthy and financially secure, and nearly as many feel the employer has a responsibility to ensure the health and financial security of employees,” Greenwald said.
Since the pandemic began, 28% of workers said they believe their employer’s efforts to improve their overall well-being has increased, and 61% said they believe it stayed the same. However, employees rate their employers’ efforts positively, with 48% saying their employer has done an excellent or very good job helping them improve their physical well-being, and 42% saying the same about their emotional and financial well-being.
The survey also finds that furloughed workers who maintain access to at least one of their employee benefits are less likely to be satisfied with their primary job and employee benefits than other workers. They are also less likely to feel confident in their ability to make informed decisions about their employee benefits.
Employment-Based Health Insurance Is A Bright Spot
On the positive side, however, nearly half of employees, 47%, are extremely/very satisfied with their benefits package, with 58% stating that they are satisfied with their employment-based retirement savings plan and 54% satisfied with their current health insurance plan. The majority of those surveyed indicated they are satisfied with the retirement and health benefits they have now, and do not want to trade their benefits with their wages.
Health insurance continues to be valued, the benefit that employees said contributes most to their feelings of financial security. Nearly two-thirds said their health insurance “contributes a lot” to their security, and more than half (55%) said their retirement plan contributes a lot to feeling financially secure. Roughly four in 10 cited life insurance, financial wellness, and benefits such as accident and critical illness insurance as contributing a lot to their financial security. One-third said they believe disability insurance contributes a great deal.
“Health insurance remains the benefit employees are most likely to consider when making employment decisions, followed by retirement savings plans, and these benefits play a critical role in employees’ feelings of financial security,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program. “Interestingly, the study finds newer benefits, including health wellness programs, critical illness or cancer insurance, and financial wellness programs are increasing in popularity.”
Although some were concerned that the pandemic and subsequent financial downturn could lead to employers decreasing or eliminating health care and other benefits, that fear has largely remained unrealized. “Although we’ve heard anecdotal reports that some have terminated benefits coverage for part-time and seasonal workers, employers have largely stayed the course on benefits offered to full-time employees,” Fronstin said.
Open-Enrollment During COVID-19
Three-quarters of employees find their health benefits easy to understand, higher than the six in 10 expressing the same level of understanding about their non-health benefits. Employees said they are confident in their ability to make informed decisions about employee benefits, with two in three stating they are very or extremely confident.
“About half of employees feel their employer has done an excellent or very good job communicating about online benefits resources during COVID, which is important as we go into open enrollment season this year,” Greenwald said.
Many employees – just under half – said they would welcome advice, either from a third-party benefits advisor or from an online program.
Employees are also keenly interested in receiving education or advice on how to invest money in their retirement plans and on how much they should be saving for retirement. Three in 10 employees said they take advantage of offered education and advice about benefits. Those who leverage this advice said they have higher levels of understanding and satisfaction.
Other key COVID-19 related findings include:
- Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees report that employers have most frequently reacted by furloughing or laying off workers (26%), promoting telemedicine benefits (18%) and increasing leave availability (17%). Only one percent suspended or cut back benefits.
- Slightly more than half (54%) report their employer has done an excellent/very good job communicating about COVID-19 policies and procedures. Roughly half (49%) said they believe communication about health benefits has been strong, and nearly as many said they believe their employer has done a good job communicating about mental health and work-life balance during the pandemic.
The 2020 survey of 1,028 American workers was conducted online July 13 through August 6, 2020. All respondents were age 21-64, and were weighted by age, race, gender and education. This report focuses on those currently employed, with significant differences for furloughed workers called out, including 900 who are currently employed full or part-time in their primary job, and 128 who are currently furloughed from their primary job, but still have access to their employee benefits. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level for the total sample of current workers in this study (n=900) is approximately plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.