Mercer: 3 ways employers can continue to enhance benefits options

close up of a mother and daughter consulting with their doctor over a video call on their digital tablet
A new Mercer survey highlights ways employers can continue to enhance benefits. (Geber86/GettyImages)

Employer health supports have a meaningful impact on workers' resilience and well-being, according to a new survey from Mercer.

The survey found that the pandemic did significant damage to the mental, physical and financial health of workers. For example, more than half said they experienced some kind of stress in the past year, and one-fifth said they were less financially well off than before the pandemic began.

However, 53% said their employer offered effective support through COVID-19, and these workers were less likely to feel the pandemic's impacts as mostly or wholly negative, according to the survey.

“There is nothing more important to the health of a business than the health of its people and the communities in which that business operates. COVID-19 challenged our global healthcare system, but the ability of employers to have a positive impact on employee health and resiliency is one of the most important findings from our 2021 Health on Demand survey,” said Martine Ferland, president and CEO of Mercer, in a statement.

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“The research is clear—employers that place health and humanity at the center of business transformation will build a more energized and adaptable workforce that is better able to persevere through periods of crisis," said Ferland.

The report offers several takeaways for employers looking to further enhance their health supports for employees.

  •  Offer benefits that are varied and high-value

More than half (55%) of employees surveyed said they find the ability to customize their benefits packages to better suit their individual needs to be either highly or extremely valued. Variety is key to this, Mercer said, as the more options people have, the better they can customize their benefits to their lives.

The survey found that 52% of people offered 10 or more health and well-being benefits or resources said their benefits are a reason to stay with their company. By comparison, 32% of those offered between one and five benefit options said the same.

Workers with access to more benefits also said they felt more confident that they could afford their care, the study found.

RELATED: Mercer: Employers planning investments in new worker supports amid slower health benefit cost growth

  • Make digital health options accessible

The pandemic significantly drove up telehealth use, and people who did try it say they're likely to stick with it, the survey found. A fifth of workers said they used telehealth for the first time due to COVID, and 23% said they grew their usage.

Of those who tried telehealth for the first time, 73% said they plan to continue using such services, the survey found.

  • Many mental health needs remain unmet

Mental health remains a significant healthcare challenge and one that employers are increasingly focused on. Almost half (49%) of U.S.-based respondents said programs that lower the cost of mental health care are highly or extremely valuable.

With behavioral health needs on the rise due to COVID, accessing such care is often difficult, with 40% of those surveyed saying it's hard to find and access quality mental health care. Among low-income workers, that number rises to 47%.

In keeping with the overall growth in telehealth use, many employees said they value virtual options for mental health care. Forty-two percent said they would value counseling conducted by video chat, and 38% said they would value virtual counseling via text.