- The coronavirus has created mental health and well-being challenges, and fewer than one-third of the 494 employers surveyed in January by Willis Towers Watson said their well-being and caregiving benefit programs have been effective at supporting employees during the pandemic, according to a Feb. 25 statement.
- Respondents identified caregiving demands as the top driver of employees' mental health concerns, while more than half said that caregiving issues for employees with young and school-age children were a top workforce challenge, followed by a decreased use of paid time off. Half of respondents made changes to PTO or vacation and sick day benefits in response, but many changes were "short term in nature, which contributed to their ineffectiveness," Rachael McCann, senior director, health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, said in the statement.
- Stress and burnout are also a focus in 2021, with 54% of respondents identifying this as the biggest well-being challenge connected to the pandemic. That has resulted in an increased emphasis on mental health services and stress management: 62% of employers said enhancing such benefits would be a top priority during the first half of 2021.
HR teams are likely to find themselves pulled in a number of directions more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to focus on reopening and all that it encompasses, from worker safety to logistics to the organization of physical workspaces, may actually cause employers to lose focus on mental health and well-being, sources previously told HR Dive.
But these areas will only continue to challenge organizations, even if COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, Regina Ihrke, well-being leader, North America at Willis Towers Watson said in the statement. Ihrke noted that employers are responding to well-being needs by "ramp[ing] up listening to employee needs, communication efforts and realignment of benefit programs with a focus on mental health and caregiving."
In practice, that could mean expanding free or low-cost access to solutions that can help employees treat stress, anxiety and sleep issues. Other employers have opted to provide free access to therapy as well as mental and physical telehealth services. Benefits industry analysts expect employers to build on existing virtual care solutions for mental health by, for example, introducing support groups that include "mental health champions" or expanding provider lists to ensure employees have access to counselors who understand their diverse backgrounds.
Supporting working parents and caregivers will continue to be a challenge as employers embrace remote work. A February report by Care.com showed that half of employers surveyed planned to offer new or expanded child care benefits in the near future, while 64% said they experienced high attrition rates, with care concerns "a major factor."
Flexible work generally may help workers cope with the turbulence of the past year. Employees with flexible arrangements in a 2020 FlexJobs survey were more likely than those without such arrangements to say that they had the emotional support they needed to manage stress. Employers in the Willis Towers Watson survey, however, expected only two in five employees to still be working remotely by the end of 2021, though the firm said this figure varied by industry.
Finally, safety practices can also have an impact on well-being. A study published October 2020 in Occupational Environmental Medicine found that grocery workers who were able to consistently practice social distancing at work had a significantly lower risk of developing anxiety or depression.