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Survey Report

2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

Highlights of key findings, United States

February 5, 2021

Employees are seeking work flexibility, enhanced wellbeing, and greater retirement security. Discover more about their experiences during the pandemic.
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About the survey

Our 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey explored the perspectives of actively working, full-time U.S. employees on their work experiences amid the pandemic as well as their overall wellbeing (emotional, social, physical and financial), retirement expectations and benefit preferences.

The research findings are based on input from 4,898 U.S. employees (4,481 full time) of large, private-sector organizations. The survey fielded in the U.S. in October 2020.

Respondent profile

Figure shows the following: 50 to 199 employees: 22%; 200 to 499 employees: 16%; 500 to 999 employees: 16%; 1,000 to 4,999 employees: 17%; 5,000 to 9,999 employees: 8%; 10,000 or more: 21%
Employer size
The figure shows: Energy and utilities: 2%; Financial services: 10%; General services: 14%; Health care: 13%; IT and telecom: 11%; Manufacturing: 15%; Public sector and education: 9%; Wholesale and retail: 15%; Other: 10%

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.


Employees seek more work flexibility, enhanced wellbeing, greater retirement security

Shifting working patterns

The initial lockdown and ongoing social distancing have brought about a significant change in working patterns. The percentage of employees working from home most or all of the time has more than doubled, from 14% before the pandemic to 31% today. While a majority of employees, especially working parents, cite a better work/life balance as a benefit of working from home, there are also downsides to consider.

Some employees, including more than half of parents, face distractions at home, making it difficult to work, while others worry about a potential negative impact on career development. In addition, employees working from home are nearly twice as likely to feel disconnected as those working onsite. This may help explain why many employees working from home today desire a more flexible, mixed onsite/work-from-home experience in the future; in fact, more than a third (38%) do.

Pandemic takes toll on emotional and social wellbeing

Emotional health and social connections are the aspects of employee wellbeing most affected by the pandemic. These are especially pressing issues for younger employees, with 47% of Gen Y and 65% of Gen Z reporting poor mental health, and 42% and 47%, respectively, reporting low to mid-low social wellbeing. Overall, nearly one-third (29%) of employees say their mental/emotional health has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic while over four in 10 (42%) indicate that their social connections have worsened. Our Wellbeing Index  reveals the extent to which employees’ social connections and mental health have declined. Slightly more than a third of employees (34%) were socially connected and two-fifths (41%) were emotionally balanced in 2020, a decrease of 7% and 5%, respectively, over 2019. Employees are looking to their employers for help in addressing emotional health and social wellbeing issues.

The pandemic has fueled a surge in employee use of virtual health care.

Our survey reveals a few bright spots amid the tragedy of the pandemic. More employees report improved physical wellbeing (22%) than worse physical wellbeing (15%), even though nearly half (44%) have deferred medical care mostly due to COVID-19 and monetary concerns. The pandemic has fueled a surge in employee use of virtual health care, which has opened additional pathways to care. In particular, low-income employees are over 40% more likely to say they got the care they needed when using virtual care.

While nearly half of employees (46%) have seen a change in their finances, negative or positive, over the course of the pandemic, overall the share of employees experiencing financial difficulties has remained stable during the pandemic. Roughly a quarter (24%) indicate that their financial situation has deteriorated. Unsurprisingly, employees who have had their hours cut or have been furloughed, or whose spouses have been furloughed, report that they have reduced their spending and savings, especially for retirement, and have taken on debt. Over a third of employees (36%) in a better financial situation also report taking on more debt, and a quarter are spending less.

At the same time, slightly more than a fifth of employees (22%) have seen an improvement in their finances. Thirty-one percent of this group are low-wage earners, and 41% have had their hours increased due to the pandemic; for both of these segments, the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act stimulus may have been more meaningful to their income.

However, it is questionable whether this improvement can be sustained. More than two-thirds of employees who are doing better financially, but are still struggling during the pandemic, have worked more hours during the pandemic. Of this group, nine in 10 employees report high levels of stress and anxiety, a figure that is 40% higher than struggling employees whose hours have not changed. Additionally, it is concerning that this financially struggling group is also the most likely (nearly 80%) to have major spending plans for after the pandemic. These findings suggest that there is a price to be paid for working longer hours to improve one’s financial situation, and that the improvements may be fleeting.

Those who report high social wellbeing are three times more likely to say that their mental wellbeing and finances have improved during the pandemic.

Our survey reveals powerful interdependencies between the different aspects of wellbeing — positive and negative — such as a strong linkage between addictive behaviors and overspending. And those who report high social wellbeing are nearly three times more likely to say that their mental wellbeing and finances have improved during the pandemic. This underscores the importance of mental and social health to all aspects of wellbeing — as well as the need to take an integrated approach to wellbeing. Such an approach focuses on all wellbeing dimensions, thereby helping ensure employees are emotionally balanced, socially connected, physically thriving and financially secure. Employees who enjoy high wellbeing across all these dimensions also have higher levels of engagement and retention, and lower presenteeism. Approaches that address one dimension of wellbeing in isolation, or ignore the mental and social dimensions, are unlikely to have meaningful success.

Meeting employees where they are

Employees’ top priorities when it comes to their benefits are reducing costs and improving their security. But how these priorities are met will differ based on the different needs and preferences of today’s diverse multigenerational workforce. It’s critical for employers to consider the range of variables — including age, salary and financial condition, gender and ethnicity — that can influence what employees want and need from their benefits.

A majority of employees cite saving for retirement as the number one area where they need help from their employer; however, those who are struggling and living paycheck to paycheck are also looking for help with day-to-day financial challenges. Additionally, work/life balance and flexible working are top of mind for Gen Z and higher-paid employees. Many others, especially younger workers, are looking for support with stress, anxiety and mental health issues, while older workers are attracted to guarantees around their health and retirement benefits.

With a better understanding of employee priorities amid an ongoing pandemic, employers have an opportunity to reset their benefit plans, enabling them to meet employees where they are and achieve better outcomes.

  1. Employees’ work experience during the pandemic

  2. Mental/emotional health and social connections

  3. Health care use

  4. Financial wellbeing

  5. Retirement expectations

  6. Getting the most from their benefits

Title File Type File Size
2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey PDF .8 MB
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