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Supporting Workers in Uncertain Times

As U.S. employees face heightened levels of burnout and depression, employers can provide consistent care to improve productivity, engagement, and loyalty.

By Maggie Mancini

The lingering effects of the pandemic, cost-of-living concerns, talent shortages, violent conflicts abroad, and civil unrest at home have left many American workers in a “permacrisis” state—with some experiencing stress, burnout, and exhaustion as their attention shifts from one unprecedented issue to the next. As employees continue to face these mental health challenges at work and at home, they have raised their expectations of how their employer should support and care for them, according to a recent survey from MetLife 

The study finds that employees are more likely to experience negative emotions at work—including stress, depression, and burnout—than they were pre-pandemic. As Todd Katz, executive vice president at MetLife, explains, today’s employees are experiencing a range of macro stressors that are likely contributing to sustained declines in employee mental health, from inflation to geopolitical tension. MetLife’s research, he explains, finds that employers can support their workforces by delivering care, a key driver of holistic health and talent outcomes in moments that matter most to employees.  

“The vast majority of employees say they want to be cared for at work and during life moments, too,” Katz says. “Life moments, including unplanned financial stress and becoming the primary income earner, are less visible to employers but have significant impact on employees, including how they show up at work. By supporting employees in these moments, employers can deliver care in more meaningful ways.” 

The study also finds that employees who understand and use their benefits are more likely to feel cared for by their employer and more likely to remain in their position. Katz explains that communication is a “critical component” of benefits strategies, as half of employees would feel more cared for if their employers improved benefits communication. As a result, employers who deploy a year-round strategy to provide educational guidance and always-on engagement can help employees get the most value out of their benefits.  

“This is also critical for retention, as 50% of employees say having a better understanding of benefits would make them more loyal,” Katz says. “It’s also linked to employee care, too, as employees who use and understand their voluntary benefits are more likely to feel cared for.”  

The research finds that employees have come to expect a more consistent delivery of care from their employers—both at work and in their personal lives. While employers have made progress when it comes to employee care, Katz says, there is a sizable perception gap with 88% of employers saying they demonstrate care for their workforce but only 60% of employees saying they feel cared for.  

“MetLife’s research also reveals notable care delivery gaps, wherein employers aren’t adequately supporting employees during key work and life moments when they have significant impact on them,” he adds. “Benefits can play a role in bridging the gap and delivering care during key moments. Voluntary benefits, from legal plans to FSAs to critical illness insurance, are a tangible way to support individuals in moments they need it most.”  

Katz adds that the report finds that among employees who say they feel cared for during key moments, more than two-in-three say their benefits experiences play a key role during impactful work (69%) and life moments (67%). 

The study explains that employees who understand and utilize these voluntary benefits from their employer are more holistically healthy than those who don’t (57% versus 47%, respectively). Katz says that when employers invest in the full benefit experience, their workforces are overall healthier, which leads to greater business outcomes—including improved engagement and productivity.  

“Company leaders also need to consider their workforce demographics and develop year-long benefit strategies that resonate with their specific employee base,” says Katz. “This includes understanding how levels of benefits understanding, communications preferences, and experiences vary between different generations and employee groups.” 

Employers should tailor benefits communications and engagement to ensure communications resonate and support their workforces’ unique needs, Katz says.  

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