MetLife finds opportunity for employers to engage employees, as COVID-19 and flexible working change the benefits landscape
Sydney November 16, 2020
2020 has shaken up the workplace landscape in a way not seen in a lifetime. It has impacted many aspects of employee benefits, increased mental and financial stress, and left many to question what it really means to work flexibly. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a growing disconnect between employees and employers, according to new research from MetLife Australia.
Now in its sixth year, the MetLife Employee Benefits Trends Study 2020, surveyed over 300 employers and more than 1,000 employees from different companies to better understand how employers can attract, engage, and retain the best talent through their benefits offerings.
The report found a growing gap between employees and their companies when it came to an understanding of how the provision of flexible work arrangements, reducing workforce stress and supporting holistic wellbeing was interpreted by the two. As expectations of employees have changed, employers have an opportunity to drive engagement by helping them navigate this landscape.
The flexible work dilemma
Flexible working arrangements were the top benefit on offer from employers and in demand from their employees. The majority of employers (73%) said they provided flexibility as an employee benefit yet only half of employees (53%) felt these arrangements were offered in their workplace.
While both employees and employers said flexible work arrangements were a key benefit to support employee mental health, employees are more stressed than ever. Almost 80% of employees said they currently felt stressed and 50% said they were more stressed than before the pandemic.
Part of this may be the new challenges faced by employees who are now working from home as part of their standard working life, and therefore no longer have a distinct demarcation between work and home. Close to half of employees (48%) expect to spend more time working from home than they did before the pandemic, however despite common assumptions, more home time does not mean better balance, with more than half (56%) also saying they struggle with maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working from home.
MetLife Australia’s Head of People and Culture, Allyson Carlile, said: “Remote working has long been a hallmark of flexible working, but we are learning that ‘remote’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘flexible’.”
“Employees may consider remote work as standard in today’s workplace, not an additional benefit. Many are instead now looking to their employers to support them with a new blended way of working but the research highlighted many organisations (62%) are struggling with the challenge of increased demand for work-life flexibility. There is no one size fits all when it comes to flexibility and that can create complexity for some organisations.”
“Although working from home may alleviate certain stresses, employers need to empower their employees with more flexible work hours, so they have the time they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones.”
Fostering financial wellness
Employees claim they are most concerned about their financial health in the wake of COVID-19, however, employers were four times more likely to believe the focus should be on employee mental health.
This disconnect may be due to the fact that financial health is understood to be an underlying cause of mental stress, but nearly half of all employees (47%) said they felt unsupported by their employer with regards to being offered initiatives or programs to assist with their financial health. This was higher for women, of which 52% said that they felt unsupported. At the same time 4 in 10 employers did not see financial health support programmes as something in which their companies had a role.
“What is encouraging to see in the wake of COVID-19, is the majority of employers (70%) recognise the need to look after and improve their employees’ mental health. In many cases however, they may not be addressing the underlying concerns driving poor mental health,” Ms Carlile said.
“Financial stress is commonly recognised as the leading driver of poor mental health, and those employers who focus on providing ways to help employees manage their financial concerns can help support a key underlying cause of their people’s mental health and reap the benefits of a happier and more secure workforce. This is a real opportunity for organisations to differentiate their benefits offering with only around a third of employers currently offering financial health benefits like financial planning, education and workshops to help employees reach their financial goals.”
Supporting holistic wellbeing
Both employers and employees agreed on employers having a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their workforce, but the opinions of employers and employees differed when it came to how healthy the workforce was across the four pillars of holistic health (social, mental, physical and financial). Almost half (42%) of employers thought their employees were healthy across all aspects but only 13% of employees agreed. Additionally, four in ten employees felt they weren’t being offered any benefits or programs to support or improve their wellbeing.
Employers may not be addressing holistic health because either they don’t understand the impact of the four pillars on their employees or they are focused on single pillars they believe are most important. For example, many have focused on mental health in response to COVID-19.
“Employers obviously have an obligation and desire to support the wellbeing of their workforce but we’re seeing many organisations struggle to deliver on that holistically. Workforce resilience can be fostered by positively influencing employees wellbeing across all components of holistic health, including physical, mental, social and financial health. Further, employers can promote the programs they are making available to their staff to ensure there is utilisation and ultimately improvement in wellbeing.” said Ms Carlile.
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