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Are employer wellbeing strategies able to respond to employee needs?

Health and Benefits|Inclusion and Diversity|Wellbeing
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By Regina Ihrke and Mark Smrecek | May 12, 2022

Insights from the 2022 Global Benefits and Attitudes Survey

Nearly three-quarters of employers indicated they wanted to differentiate their wellbeing programs in order to meet employee needs across a wide spectrum, according to the 2021 WTW Wellbeing Diagnostic Survey. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have successfully taken steps to improve their wellbeing programs, including addressing employees’ physical, financial, emotional, and social needs.

However, WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits and Attitudes Survey has found that employees may still be struggling in certain areas, despite the actions of their employers. Further, there is a range of needs employees have and these vary based on salary, generation and other demographic factors. Our research points to the need for employers to constantly monitor the effects of their programs and respond accordingly as employee needs change over time.

Shifting needs based on the changing environment

Emotional health took center stage throughout most of 2021 as virtual work arrangements, realigned caregiving priorities, financial struggles, social justice issues and loneliness became increasing challenges for employees. In response, over 80% of employers recognized stress, burnout, anxiety and depression as key issues among their workforce, and 86% made it a top priority to address these issues.

86%
Employers making it a top priority to address stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among their workforce

So, how are employers succeeding in meeting employee needs in 2022?

WTW’s 2022 Global Benefits and Attitudes Survey paints an emerging picture of how employees are faring as pandemic fears subside and the world adjusts to the long-awaited “new normal.” A key finding of the survey is that employee social and financial wellbeing have deteriorated since before the pandemic, while emotional and physical wellbeing have remained relatively unchanged.

Wellbeing is not one-size fits all

Financial insecurity is on the rise, as 42% of employees overall reported a high level of financial wellbeing in 2022, compared to 46% in 2020. The greatest decline (from 63% in 2019 to 44% in 2022) occurred for high-income individuals (those earning > $100k annually), and for Gen X (from 48% to 44%) and Gen Y (from 36% to 32%) employees.

Social wellbeing is a growing concern as well, as only 28% of employees overall reported feeling socially connected in 2022, compared to 41% in 2019. In particular, Gen X, Gen Z and Boomers all experienced declines in their levels of social wellbeing of 36%, 51%, and 64%, respectively, between 2022 and 2019. Further, only 17% of lower-income employees (those making <$50k annually) reported feeling secure in their social wellbeing in 2022, compared to 40% in 2019.

In addition, there is a subset of employees (including single women, low-income workers and those facing barriers to social determinants of health) who are experiencing declines across all four dimensions of wellbeing. About 4 in 10 of these “high risk” employees saw a deterioration of their wellbeing in the past year.

What can employers do to support all employees as their needs change?

Employees are taking notice of the actions of their employers when it comes to ensuring their wellbeing. Fifty-eight percent believe wellbeing to be an important part of their organization’s culture and 60% feel their manager has a sincere interest in their wellbeing.

58%
Employees who believe wellbeing to be an important part of their organization’s culture

When asked what they would most like their employers to focus on, 44% of employees rank retirement, and 39% rank flexible work arrangements, as one of their top three issues. These findings were consistent across all generation and salary breakdowns with one notable exception: Gen Z employees ranked managing emotional health among their top three concerns.

The 2022 Global Benefits and Attitudes survey also found that robust benefits, tools and resources, and a workplace culture that supports dignity and builds employee trust are important levers to address wellbeing. Those employees who report higher levels of wellbeing say their benefits meet their needs, and are happier with their broader benefits and the direction of their career.

It’s important for employers to consider all pillars of wellbeing – physical, emotional, financial, and social at all times. Economic, environmental and societal factors have and will continue to play a key role in the health and wellbeing of our employees, so it’s important to establish a strong culture of wellbeing.

A culture of wellbeing presents benefits to employers as well as employees

Meeting the wellbeing needs of employees took precedence during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as mental health issues became more prevalent. As a result, many employers took steps to create strategies for wellbeing programs that resulted in the organization adopting a culture of wellbeing. The next step for employers now is to ensure that culture is embedded even as employees needs change.

This is a positive development for both employees and employers as a culture of wellbeing can result in greater employee trust and drive positive change (including healthier lifestyles, improved financial situations and better mental health). Our research indicates that employees who felt supported by their employers during the pandemic were 36% more likely to stay and 46% more engaged than those who didn’t feel supported. In addition, these organizations lost 7.4 fewer days to presenteeism, on average.

Wellbeing is not a set it and forget it proposition. Wellbeing programs require continuous attention and monitoring to be successful, with special attention to high-risk employees who may be struggling across all four dimensions of wellbeing despite the best efforts of their employers.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that employers need to continually monitor and meet the needs of their workforce and be able to shift wellbeing strategies as needed. Those that do are poised to experience better outcomes including higher levels of retention and engagement, with lower levels of presenteeism.

Authors

Wellbeing Leader, North America

Financial Wellbeing Market Leader - Retirement

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