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2020 COVID-19 Benefits Survey

Highlights of key findings, United States

Health and Benefits|Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

May 19, 2020

In response to the pandemic, we examined how changes to benefits are developing. Findings reveal that employers are supporting workers by enhancing programs.

About the survey

These research findings are based on responses from 816 employers representing 12 million U.S. employees. The survey fielded between April 20 and April 24, 2020.

Respondent profile:

  • 57% multinational organizations based in the U.S.
  • 53% entire organization designated as essential
  • 35% some locations and businesses designated as essential
  • 12% no part of business designated as essential

Industry

Pie chart shows the following industry participation: 29% manufacturing, 15% health care, 12% financial services, 11% genera services, 10% wholesale and retail, 9% IT and telecom, 9% energy and utilities, 7% public sector and education.
Respondents by industry

Overview

Employers enhance health care, wellbeing and leave programs to support their workers.

Despite facing unprecedented challenges and rapidly shifting business priorities due to COVID-19, many organizations are taking steps to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees. Our benefits survey, which was fielded April 20 – 24, 2020, examined real-time impacts of the pandemic on employer-sponsored benefit and wellbeing programs. The findings reveal that supporting employees by enhancing health care, wellbeing and paid leave programs are leading priorities, but some struggling businesses are responding to the crisis through cuts to retirement benefits.

Nearly half of employers are uncertain about what to expect in two years, making planning particularly challenging. Additionally, nearly two-thirds believe COVID-19 will have a moderate to large negative impact on worker wellbeing.

While few companies (11%) have developed a strategy, protocols or a communication plan for reopening the workplace, roughly two-thirds are planning to do so. Three-quarters of employers anticipate a phased or gradual reopening of the workplace. Most will start with critical employees and won’t require medical certification.

Highlights at a glance


Broader benefit priorities

Employers’ top benefit priorities over the next six months include:

  • Communicating more on existing benefits
  • Enhancing mental health services and stress/resilience management
  • Supporting the financial wellbeing of employees
  • Addressing benefits for employees on leave and furlough

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Wellbeing

Flexibility, staying connected and support programs

  • Working from home: To address anxiety and loneliness, 85% of employers have increased video conferencing for work and non-work purposes, and 73% offer flexible work hours allowing employees to manage work and home challenges.
  • Financial counseling: 63% focus on promoting existing counseling resources (defined contribution vendor, investment advisor, independent counselor) to support financial wellbeing.

Focus on emotional wellbeing

  • Virtual solutions: 60% of employers offer new virtual solutions that are easy to implement to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees working from home (e.g., virtual workouts, virtual social gatherings).
  • Manager training: Over half of employers (51%) provide or are planning to provide manager training on recognizing signs of anxiety and/or depression, and how to refer to resources such as employee assistance programs.

Health care
  • Employers expect health care, sick leave and disability costs to rise over the next year due to COVID-19.
  • Employers are focusing on promoting virtual medical care by raising awareness and reducing point-of-care costs.
  • Over 80% have or are planning to offer/expand access to virtual mental health services.
  • About two in five employers are planning to revise their 2021 health care strategy.
  • Nearly two-thirds (66%) of companies will prioritize access to high-quality mental health solutions in their 2021 health care program.

Retirement plans
  • 12% have taken actions to suspend or reduce matching or nonelective contributions to the defined contribution plan with another 24% planning or considering.
  • At the same time, employers are adopting changes allowed by the CARES Act to provide employees with financial challenges the flexibility to access retirement assets.
  • Struggling businesses are much more likely to take cost-cutting actions related to retirement benefits; to date, much of this activity is concentrated in a few industries.
  • Nearly 20% of distressed companies are considering reducing or eliminating retiree medical subsidy.

Paid leave
  • 42% have made or plan to make changes to paid time off or vacation/sick leave programs to boost flexibility.
  • More than half of employers take actions to address the anticipated surplus of banked hours at years end.
  • Other priorities include enhancing flexibility in their program design by allowing negative balances and increasing accruals.

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