Surveys by benefits providers have uncovered much nervousness about financial health on the part of employees, as well as a notable focus on making educating decisions about the options they select during this year’s open enrollment.
Not surprisingly, the reason for all this is Covid-19. With some 6.9 million cases reported in the U.S., and close to 200,000 deaths, the virus has impacted every family in the country in one way or another. Even those who’ve not been directly touched by illness have felt the consequences of stay-at-home mandates, home-schooling and scaled-back mass transit.
According to Aflac’s 2020 Workforces Report, nearly half of American employees consider the pandemic to be “a wake-up call” for how they approach researching and selecting their health benefits packages. That represents a significant shift in behavior, the company said, since 92% of workers choose the same benefits year after year.
Nearly half of employees, 48%, told MetLife that open enrollment is more important this year than it was in 2019. Two-thirds said that’s because of the pandemic, but 34% were concerned about financial issues such as lost income or rising healthcare costs.
Employees seem to be planning for more challenging scenarios than they have in the past. In MetLife’s words, they’re “approaching open enrollment with a newfound determination to prepare for what’s ahead, and their personal finance is top of mind.”
Financial Health Concerns
Nearly 70% said improving their financial health is one of their most important goals this year, MetLife said, while 45% felt insecure about some aspect of their finances.
Aflac CHRO Matthew Owenby said the pandemic had “inspired important conversations” about healthcare and concerns about financial security. His company’s report found that a third of employees aren’t confident that their health benefits will protect them or their family if they’re impacted by the virus.
Notably, 67% have experienced at least a minor financial impact from the pandemic, while a full third have experienced moderate to major effects on their finances. Thirty-six percent lost either a job or income, while 21% faced unexpected costs related to caring for a family member.
Meanwhile, both employers and employees show increased concern about the pandemic’s mental health impact, according to benefits provider Unum.
Eighty-five percent of employers are concerned with the pandemic’s impact on their workers’ mental health, the company found. Some 58% have seen an increase in the use of mental health benefits during the pandemic, and two-thirds expect to see an uptick this fall.
Pressure on parents to juggle changing schedules and work responsibilities continues to weigh on businesses. Most organizations, 87%, predict that modified school schedules will be a challenge for employees. They expect to see impacts on productivity, an increase in leave requests and shifting workloads due to employee absences.
To accommodate working parents many employers are implementing flexible work schedules, full-time work-from-home arrangements, reduced work hours and childcare services, Unum said.