Employees are mostly satisfied with their company’s response to COVID-19, but there has been a change in sentiment concerning employee benefits, according to a series of surveys.

The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Study, which polled U.S. workers and human resources benefit decision makers in early March 2020 just before the COVID-19 outbreak and again in mid-June, found that many employees continue to view their benefits positively, but their perceived value of the benefits provided and their trust in the company to make the best benefits decisions have declined.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of employee respondents agree that their company’s overall response to the pandemic has been adequate. Employees express the most satisfaction with employers in regard to maintaining communication with employees (68%) and the least satisfaction with flexibility in response to employee needs (child/family care) (59%). Employees are also satisfied with their employers when it comes to:

  • taking steps to ensure a safe return to work experience (64%);
  • creating a supportive working environment (63%); and
  • listening to employee concerns (61%).

Benefits Package

But when asked to rate their organization’s overall benefits package compared with what other employers are offering in their marketplace, only 44% rate their benefits as above average compared to 56% in Wave 1. In addition, 55% of employees say they trust their company is making the best decisions about the benefits available, compared to 61% in Wave 1.

“The pandemic has put pressure on the American workforce in ways few could have predicted and employees need support more than ever,” says Jonathan Bennett, head of Group Benefits at The Hartford. “Now is the perfect time for employers to address employees’ changing attitudes about benefits. As employee familiarity with benefits also declined, our research uncovered an opportunity for employers to increase trust by focusing more on communication, including education about their available benefits and what they cover.”

Consequently, employers apparently are recognizing the need to do more for their workforce when it comes to benefits. More employers say they are likely to offer additional benefits and services not currently offered by their company. Among the benefits that employers had the greatest increased interest in offering from wave one to wave two include:

  • Employee assistance programs (EAP) (38% to 56%)
  • Hospital indemnity insurance (34% to 48%)
  • Student loan repayment plans (27% to 38%)
  • Behavioral/mental health services (42% to 51%)
  • Wellness benefits (42% to 51%)

Virtual Enrollment and Education 

Not surprisingly, how employers will educate their workforce about benefits and facilitate enrollment is also changing. Sixty-three percent of employers say their company’s open enrollment strategy will lean more on online resources this year due to COVID-19, the study found. Smaller employers (fewer than 50 employees) are the least likely to depend more strongly on online resources (42%).

And while employers are shifting to more online resources, many plan to offer a mix of options:

  • An all-online benefit education and enrollment experience (50%)
  • Ability/access to enroll in benefits during business hours (45%)
  • Ability/access to enroll in benefits outside of business hours (43%)
  • Enroll in benefits in person with a HR contact/benefits advisor (42%)
  • Enroll in benefits with the help of a virtual assistant (36%)
  • Telephonic enrollment (30%)

The Hartford’s 2020 study was based on an online survey fielded in two waves. The first was fielded from Feb. 27-March 13, 2020, among 761 employers and 1,503 employees; the second was fielded from June 15-30, 2020, among 567 employers and 1,038 employees. The employers surveyed were HR professionals who manage/decide employee benefits and employees surveyed were actively employed.