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."
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.