During these times, it’s understandable that many people become focused on their overall wellbeing – particularly their physical and mental health, as well as their financial stability. And employers have an important role to play.

MetLife Australia’s research into employee wellbeing found some significant gaps between those who feel supported by their employers and those who don’t.

Across three studies commissioned by MetLife in 2020 – COVID-19 research in March and May, and the 2020 Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) in September – Australian employees who experienced a positive employer response to COVID-19 reported generally higher ratings of health and wellbeing than those who experienced a negative employer response to the pandemic.

Four in 10 employees surveyed for MetLife’s 2020 EBTS report said their employers don’t offer benefits or programs that help support or improve their wellbeing. By comparison, 28 per cent of employees who are offered some benefits or programs feel their employer could do more, a further 28 per cent report their employers are doing enough, and just four per cent say their employers are going above and beyond expectations.

So how can employers do better? MetLife’s 2020 EBTS includes a model of holistic health that can help employers design and deliver programs to address four key aspects of an employee’s wellbeing:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Financial health
  • Social health

When asked to rank the importance of these wellbeing aspects, employers and employees gave slightly different responses. While it’s certainly positive to see 70 per cent of employers prioritising the mental health aspect of their employees’ wellbeing, the top concern for all employees is financial health (27 per cent) – and of all employees who also reported poor mental health, financial concerns were rated as the main cause of stress by four in 10 Australians.

“Finances are probably the forerunner for everything,” explained one respondent to the survey of employees for MetLife’s EBTS 2020 report. “That’s just life … most of us are worried day-to-day. Are we doing all right and providing for our children and providing for our spouse?”

Ensuring long-term financial wellness

One important way you can reduce financial stress – and indeed, improve your financial wellbeing – is to invest some of your regular earnings now to protect against future financial issues by having adequate insurance cover.

The purpose of insuring your life (Life, Total and Permanent Disability and Income Protection, for example) is that in case anything happens you will have sufficient payments to meet ongoing financial commitments, such as mortgages and living expenses, for you and your loved ones.

Protecting your long-term financial security can also contribute to your overall wellbeing in your day-to-day life: as MetLife’s pre COVID-19 2019 Employee Benefits Trends Study found, people whose financial goals are on track are happier (76 per cent report feeling happy) than those who aren’t on track (52 per cent), and they are more satisfied with the job they have (72 per cent versus 50 per cent).

Employee benefits provide financial security

MetLife’s 2020 Employee Benefit Trends Study found that while some people already commit a percentage of their salaries to savings and insurance themselves, employees who receive a range of employer benefits report feeling more secure in their finances.

That sense of security extends well beyond having a good salary. When employees were asked which programs they would like from their employer to help ease their stress and improve their wellbeing, seven of the top 10 were directly related to financial security concerns:

  • Increased paid time off (#2);
  • Additional super contributions from their employer on top of compulsory contributions (#4);
  • Income Protection Insurance (#6);
  • Paid family/caregiver leave (#7);
  • Access to financial planning, education workshops and financial wellness tools (#8);
  • Emergency hardship assistance (#9);
  • Life (Death) Insurance (#10).

The other wellbeing-related items in the top 10 were flexible work arrangements (#1), work from home policy (#3) and mental wellness programs (#5).

MetLife’s research shows employees who understand clearly what employer programs are available are more likely to believe those benefits support their mental and financial wellbeing. They are also more likely to say they feel productive, engaged, valued, loyal and less stressed.

But the research also reveals some employees aren’t even aware of the programs offered by their employers. And if they do know about some of the programs, they don’t understand how they might benefit from them.

In fact, the 2020 EBTS revealed quite a gap in how employees rated themselves as ‘financially healthy’ depending on whether they claim to have life insurance, are offered benefits to support their wellbeing and have a better understanding of the benefits:

  • 39 per cent of people who claim to have life insurance rate themselves as financially healthy versus 32 per cent who don’t have insurance;
  • 42 per cent of employees who are offered benefits to support/improve their wellbeing rate themselves as financially healthy versus 29 per cent who aren’t offered benefits;
  • 53 per cent of employees who completely understand the benefits offered rate themselves as financially healthy versus 32 per cent who have a reasonable or poor understanding of benefits offered.

Education is the key here: find out what benefits are available to you, understand how to access them, and then learn more about how to get the most from them when you need them.

What’s encouraging is that just over half of all Australians are actively undertaking some kind of activity regarding their life insurance – whether it be checking or reviewing their coverage or doing online research, according to the 2020 EBTS. Younger Australians are particularly active in this regard.

MetLife Australia is helping to educate all Australians on the benefits of life insurance and increase their awareness of the insurance they hold within their superannuation. Checking if you have it, knowing what you may have and knowing that you can make changes to it can potentially lead to a drop in financial-related stress.

Knowing you have a financially secure future is a positive feeling, with flow-on effects into other areas of your overall wellbeing – especially your mental health. So it’s worth having conversations with your employer and a financial adviser about how they can help to boost your wellbeing.

Find out more about Life Insurance with MetLife.