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Survey Report

Pandemic impacts on benefit programs: Multinational perspectives

Key findings from 2020 COVID-19 Benefits Survey

May 29, 2020

We examined the benefit changes organizations have made in response to the pandemic. Findings reveal that employers are supporting workers by enhancing programs.
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Risque de pandémie

About the survey respondents

These research findings are based on responses from over 100 multinational organizations with headquarters (HQs) in the U.S. and U.K., representing 3.2 million employees globally.

Respondent profile:

  • 68% multinational organizations based in the U.S.
  • 32% multinational organizations based in the U.K.


Image shows the following respondents: 23% financial services, 22% manufacturing, 17% IT and Telecom, 16% General services, 11% Health care, 5% Energy and utilities, 5% Wholesale and retail, 1% Public sector and education
Respondents by industry


Boosting benefits, wellbeing and communications — HQs strive to protect and preserve human capital value

Despite facing unprecedented challenges and rapidly shifting business priorities due to COVID-19, many multinational HQs are taking steps to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees around the world. Our benefits survey, which fielded April 20 to May 1, 2020, examined real-time impacts of the pandemic on employer-sponsored benefit and wellbeing programs. The findings reveal that most HQs are prioritizing program enhancements over benefit reductions. Top priorities include improving mental health services, promoting existing programs and supporting financial wellbeing.

The majority of HQs anticipate negative outcomes for business results, productivity and wellbeing over the next six months. And nearly half are uncertain about what to expect in two years, making it difficult to plan ahead.  

In an effort to protect their businesses, many HQs have taken swift action by implementing hiring freezes (76%) and furloughs (43%). To safeguard employees, the majority have put into operation mandatory work-from-home policies (86%) and alternative work teams (48%). 

As a new reality continues to unfold around the world, many multinationals have already developed a strategy and communication plan for reopening the workplace. Most anticipate a phased or gradual reopening with an emphasis on critical employees.

Highlights at a glance

Broader benefit priorities

Employers’ top benefit priorities over the next six months include:

  • Enhancing mental health services and stress/resilience management
  • Promoting the value of existing programs
  • Supporting the financial wellbeing of employees
  • Ensuring business continuity of benefit programs
  • Addressing benefits for employees on leave and furlough


Flexibility, staying connected and healthy, and support programs

  • Working from home: To address anxiety and loneliness, 86% of HQs have added easy-to-implement virtual solutions for work and non-work purposes (e.g., video conferencing, virtual workouts, nutritional counseling, social gatherings). Seventy-two percent are actively promoting healthy weight, nutrition and physical activity for work-from-home employees.
  • Financial counseling: Nearly half (47%) are measuring signs of financial stress, and two-thirds have raised awareness of emergency financial assistance resources. More than a third (35%) are implementing new financial help and guidance resources, and 32% are putting into action new emergency assistance solutions (e.g., loans).

Enabling managers to enhance emotional wellbeing

  • Over a quarter (26%) of organizations are measuring employee anxiety during the current period with another 29% considering doing so.
  • Nearly half (49%) are training managers to recognize signs of anxiety and/or depression and how-to-refer-to resources, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs).
  • Almost three-quarters (73%) are training managers on how to effectively engage a remote workforce.

Health care
  • Most multinational employers are projecting the financial impact of COVID-19 on the health care budget.
  • Many have prioritized promoting and communicating about virtual mental health services (65%) and EAP availability (82%).
  • Over two-thirds (68%) have increased access to mental health services.
  • Nearly all (90%) are promoting use of telemedicine and virtual visits for medical concerns.
  • Over half of multinational employers have already revised or are considering revising their health care strategy for 2021.

Retirement plans
  • Multinational employers are taking various actions to tackle employee financial strain by facilitating withdrawals, enhancing financial wellbeing and communicating directly with employees nearing retirement.
  • Few HQs have taken actions to suspend or close their retirement benefits.
  • Most areas of retirement plan management performed adequately, but 45% identified weaknesses in their financial wellbeing modeling tools.

Paid leave
  • Many HQs (39%) issued a common company policy or minimum standards for sick leave across countries, which extend to almost all hourly paid employees (97%).
  • Nearly one-third of multinational employers are looking to add flexibility to paid-time-off/vacation programs to prevent lost days at year’s end due to the buildup of surplus hours during the pandemic.
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