The pandemic put what matters most in perspective. The way we work changed overnight, leaving employees and business owners scrambling to adjust. Amid the chaos, some clear benefits trends emerged. With every aspect of people’s health and well-being being challenged, the benefits you offered your employees could make or break your business. We’ll explore how employees’ needs and expectations surrounding benefits have changed during the pandemic, and what are the best strategies to make sure employers can keep up.

Employees are willing to leave a lot on the table in the pursuit of wellness. They are leaving their jobs in droves in search of organizations that prioritize safety and a healthy work-life balance. The benefits you offer can help you get and keep your best employees, or drive them away. The pandemic showed us all how interconnected our personal lives are with our work lives. Maybe businesses owners are realizing that what they’ve been offering isn’t sufficient to meet their employees’ needs. At this point, it’s not just an employee problem, it’s a business problem.


of employees say that the safety and protection of themselves and their family is more important than ever before.


of employees are interested in their employer providing a wider mix of nonmedical benefits that they can choose to purchase on their own.


of employees think employee benefits are more important now because of the pandemic.


of employees say their employer is not currently offering benefits and programs to support or improve their well-being.1

How can benefits support employees?

How can employers support the wide-ranging worries and challenges their employees face?

  • Provide more enhanced benefits that protect employees’ health and their paychecks.
  • Offer benefits that meet the range of employees’ changing needs.
  • Fight the employer-employee disconnect by listening and providing adequate benefits information.

The future of benefits must focus on holistic well-being.


of employers are expanding the range of employee-paid benefits (voluntary benefits) offered (or intend to)


of employers are expanding the range of non-medical benefits offered (or intend to)


of employers are enabling employees to have greater customization of their benefits (or intend to)

Employees who say their employer offers a benefits package that meets their needs are 41% more likely to feel resilient and 60% more likely to trust their employer’s leadership.2


Shine a spotlight on mental health

The pandemic strained our relationships, endangered our physical health, jeopardized our financial security, and tested our emotional resilience. Unsurprisingly, checking those feelings at the door has been next to impossible. Employees are stressed, depressed, anxious, and burned out. Benefits like mental health resources, EAPs, gym memberships, etc. can help create a culture of wellbeing that supports employees mental, physical, social and financial health.

Employee mental health impacts productivity at work:

Trouble focusing/ concentrating (61%)

Feeling irritable/ angry (46%)

Missed time (late to work, leave early, missed days, unexpected absence) (29%)

Unable to collaborate (19%)

Missed deadlines/ meetings/quotas (18%)3


of workers say they have sought help for stress, burnout or other mental health issues in the past 12 months.


of employees who sought help used an employer resource.

But 37% of managers are not prepared to support employees with stress, burnout or other mental health issues.4

During the pandemic, 23 percent of employers added virtual mental health therapy sessions as an employee benefit. Of those that added virtual counseling, almost all have either made it a permanent change (71 percent) or are considering making it permanent (26 percent).5

What are your employees worried about?

  • Financial health is the top concern and a top contributor to poor mental health.
  • 86% of employees say finances are a top source of stress for them now and in the future.6

Make flexible working arrangements the norm

Working remotely is the new norm and it’s not a perk that employees want to give up any time soon. But many employers feel differently about flexible schedules/arrangements. We can attribute this sentiment to a lack of trust in employees and the archaic notion that work can only be done under the watchful eye of a supervisor. However, if there’s anything the pandemic taught us, it’s that most of us can work from home and still be creative and productive.


of employees feel their employer is offering greater flexibility in work hours and arrangements, compared to 81% of employers who believe they are offering adequate flexibility


of employees who can work remotely say their employer should allow them to make the right choice for themselves and their family


of employees are interested in alternative work arrangements like remote work and more flexible schedules

But 90% of employers who have changed working arrangements say they expect to return to pre-pandemic working arrangements once they can.7

Allowing for remote work or flexible working arrangements can be a key part of achieving a healthy work-life balance. At the height of the pandemic, employees with children or elderly family members had to manage work and childcare/eldercare at the same time. Flexibility gives employees more control over their day and helps them provide necessary care for their families.

Families are struggling:

The CDC reported that the proportion of mental-health related emergency department visits shot up by 24% for young children and 31% for tweens and teens in 2020.8

Offer more, and more varied, paid time off options

Whether it was taking time off to recover from an illness, care for a sick family member or just take a mental health break – employees wanted and needed more time off from work than ever. Employers responded to the unique circumstances of the pandemic by increasing paid time off for their employees.

  • 71% of employees say paid or unpaid leave is a must-have benefit, but only 57% of employers offer it9
  • 75% of U.S. employers increased the types of paid time away from work they provide beyond state or federal requirements in the past year. Employers enhanced/added:
    • Medical leave
    • Sick time
    • Family leave
    • Parental leave
    • PTO/vacation time10

71% of employees say paid or unpaid leave is a must-have benefit, but only 57% of employers offer it

More generous policies and benefits (like flextime, paid sick leave, telecommuting) have:

How can employers support the wide-ranging worries and challenges their employees face?

  • Reduced workers intentions to quit by 5.9% for each additional family benefit offered
  • Had a positive impact on companies’ sales and stock prices.11

Communication, communication, communication

Part of the difficulty of offering benefits, is accurately/effectively communicating them to employees. You could have high-value benefits that your employees don’t know about or don’t understand their worth. There’s a disconnect between what employees feel like they are getting from their employers, and what employers think they are offering their employees. It would be wise to explore why that gap exists and solve how to get everyone on the same page. The best way to start is by asking questions and listening to your employees, whether it be through surveys, townhalls, or small group meetings.

When you communicate benefits to your employees, you should consider:

  • The frequency and consistency of communication (is it happening once a year during open enrollment or is happening throughout the year?)
  • Who is delivering the messages (is it a manager, a trusted leader or provider rep?)
  • Where the communication is happening (in-person, online, via email or phone)
  • The clarity and quality of the messaging (is communication engaging and easy to read and understand?)

When employees are satisfied with the frequency and clarity of communications from their employer, they are:


more likely to be holistically well


more likely to feel valued and appreciated


more likely to be resilient


more likely to feel productive

Make the benefits communications easier to understand:

7 in 10 employees want to hear from business leaders about their benefits after they’ve already signed up for them

When employees understand how their benefits work through their employer’s benefits communications, they are:


more likely to trust their employer’s leadership


more likely to be happy with their job


more likely to be loyal to their employer

Only 31% of employees think their employer’s benefit communications are easy to understand

More than half (55%) wish they were more informed about their benefits so that they could get more value from them.12

You should expect these trends to persist past the pandemic. With quality employee benefits, you can address employee wellness and move towards your business goals. When implemented effectively, empathetically, and inclusively, these benefits and benefit strategies can support a healthy work culture. When they work together successfully, you can shape happy, healthy, resilient, and productive employees.

Learn about our plans

The pandemic put a lot of pressure on employers. Benefits is just one way you feel that burden. A Professional Employer Organization (PEO), like XcelHR, lightens your load. We don’t just provide the Fortune 500 style benefits to you and your employees, but we also take care of the administration involved with offering benefits. We make offering benefits a possibility and make it easy for you and your employees to enjoy them. Learn more about the benefits we offer here.


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