Less than a third of employers think their well-being, caregiving programs have supported workers through COVID-19

Employers are finding that their wellness programs were enough to support workers during COVID-19. (Getty Images/AsiaVision)

Less than a third of employers believe their wellness and caregiving programs have effectively supported workers during COVID-19, a new survey shows.

Willis Towers Watson surveyed 494 employers with 6.44 million workers and found that just 29% believe their well-being programs have been effective at supporting employees. Even fewer (27%) said the same about caregiving programs.

More than half (54%) of employers surveyed said stress and burnout posed the biggest challenges to employee well-being under the pandemic. In addition, 40% said higher mental health claims are their biggest hurdle.

“The pandemic has taken its toll on employees especially in the areas of emotional and social well-being. In fact, the impact is so great that many employers expect these effects will continue in a post-vaccine environment,” said Regina Ihrke, senior well-being leader at Willis Towers Watson, said in a statement. “Therefore, many employers are now acting with urgency as they look to take their wellbeing programs to the next level."

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To achieve this transformation, they will ramp up listening to their employee needs, their communication efforts and their realignment of benefit programs with a focus on mental health and caregiving, Ihrke said.

Addressing caregiving needs is a critical challenge employers began to address in 2020 and will continue to tackle in the coming months, the survey found. Sixty-seven percent said they recognize the increased caregiving demand as a key driver of worsening mental health.

Half of employers surveyed said they changed the features of paid time off and sick leave, and 23% changed their annual carryover limits.

“Employers have assessed their caregiving support was not as effective as hoped, and as a result the mental health of their workforce is suffering. Many solutions were short term in nature, which contributed to their ineffectiveness. With the stakes so high, employers need a revamped approach to caregiving support that includes a holistic view of benefits, paid time off and flexible work policies,” said Rachael McCann, senior director at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement

In the face of these challenges, employers are putting an increasing focus on shoring up and enhancing such offerings. The survey found that 62% are making it a top priority in the next six months to improve their mental health benefits and stress management programs, up from 47% of employers saying the same six months ago.

In addition, 33% said a top priority is developing a strategy for benefits in a post-COVID-19 world, while just 15% of employers said the same six months ago.

Employers also said they're emphasizing additional communication with employees to ensure they know what benefits they have access to, with 68% of those surveyed naming this as a priority.