Why Flexibility and Empathy Should Drive Your Workplace Benefits Strategy
By Dean R. Pawlowski
Our research at Guardian has found that there’s been a recent evolution in the way many organizations work, with more telecommuting, flexible schedules and adjusted operating models in place. While many of these changes were initiated because of the pandemic, many are here to stay because of ongoing workplace trends and a monumental shift in workers’ expectations.
Employers are, therefore, charged with creating a more inclusive, empathetic and supportive workplace while being better prepared to weather any future disruptions to the way we work.
Read on for ideas on how to build a benefits program driven by empathy that will help make employees feel supported.
More Remote Work
Only 2 in 10 employees who can do their jobs remotely work on-site full time.¹ While this is a dramatic change from the way many employers used to do business, increased remote work is in line with workplace trends that existed even before the pandemic. One study found that U.S. job postings that offer some remote work tripled from 2019 to 2022.² This trend could continue given that employers are realizing how many jobs can be performed remotely.
Having the flexibility to work from home or anywhere that is convenient is a great option for all workers but could be especially helpful in making workplaces more inclusive for workers with disabilities. Unlike most U.S. workers, workers with permanent disabilities showed improved well-being during the pandemic, largely because of increased flexibility and remote work.³ Making remote work a permanent option could dramatically increase the number of jobs open to workers with disabilities.
Better Work-Life Balance
With so many parents juggling their workload with parenting, work-life balance is more important than ever. The same goes for caregivers: 1 in 5 U.S. employers took an extended leave of absence in the past two years to take care of themselves or a family member, pointing to the growing need for enhanced leave and flexibility.⁴
This could be especially helpful for parents who struggle to pay for child care and for caregivers who have little outside support. Caregivers report spending more than a quarter of their annual income on caregiving and related expenses.⁵ Having the flexibility of remote work or paid leave could help offset some of the negative financial impacts that caregivers face.
Offering Supplemental Health Benefits
Half of U.S. workers have less than $2,500 saved for a medical emergency.⁶ Since a three-day hospital stay costs around $30,000, an unexpected medical event could be financially devastating.⁷ Supplemental health benefits—such as hospital indemnity, accident and critical illness insurance—can provide powerful protection.
Supplemental health benefits can also offer an economical way to support worker well-being: 6 in 10 employers agree that supplemental health benefits help them meet employees’ needs for greater financial stability, and many are offered on a voluntary basis.⁸ Supplemental health insurance sales have outpaced the industry average with 4% compound annual growth (CAGR) since 2010.⁹ Despite this, 7 in 10 full-time workers don’t own any supplemental health products.¹⁰ Given that high costs drive many to avoid seeking needed medical care, this could have dangerous consequences for employees’ physical and financial health.¹¹
Mental Health as a Workplace Priority
Workforce mental health is in crisis. More than 6 in 10 U.S. workers reported that, in the past two years, they or someone in their households experienced depression or anxiety.¹² Moreover, 27% of employees don’t get the help they need for mental health problems.¹³
Fortunately, according to Guardian research, nearly 6 in 10 (59%) employers say addressing workforce mental health is a top priority.¹⁴ However, while 7 in 10 employers report that they address employees’ emotional health extremely well, less than half of employees rate their company’s mental health benefits highly.¹⁵
Support Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Employees today value corporate cultures that are inclusive, support diversity and encourage empathy. As the Guardian Workforce Well-Being Index found, employees who work for organizations with those traits report better well-being¹⁶ and are also 25% less likely to experience anxiety and depression than workers whose employers do not.¹⁷ Companies can offer support for their employees by developing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and by building diversity initiatives into their recruitment, hiring and onboarding practices. Building employee resource groups (ERGs) can also help support communities and promote awareness and allyship.
An inclusive corporate culture is even more important for younger workers. According to Guardian research, Generation Z workers are nearly twice as likely to say they’d want to work for or stay at a company that promotes a positive impact on society than members of Generation X or the baby boomers.¹⁸
Below are some next steps to get started building a more empathetic benefits program:
Flexible Workplace Arrangements
- Telecommuting: For many employees, the option to work remotely at least part time is a must-have. Investing in collaborative technology and communicating regularly with employees helps maintain connection and can boost productivity.
- Flexible scheduling allows employees to adjust their work hours to accommodate their personal lives, such as caregiving responsibilities, child care or health conditions.
Effective benefits offerings and communication
- Raising awareness: Employees desire more information about their benefits choices, especially early- and late-career workers who are interested in more targeted guidance. Look into providing employees with the opportunity to meet with a benefits adviser.
- Supplemental health benefits such as critical illness, hospital indemnity and accident insurance are an effective way to help employees cover unexpected medical costs that may not be fully covered by medical insurance.
- Mental and emotional health resources, from access to counselors to meditation apps, are key to helping employees cope with stress.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies provide a framework of policies that can help ensure all employees feel supported and included.
- Social justice responsiveness has risen in importance as employees increasingly desire and expect their employers to take a stand on key issues. Developing a strategy that aligns with your company’s values and strengths will help determine appropriate ways to respond.
Read the full report from Guardian.
To learn more about PrismHR Marketplace Partner, Guardian, visit our website.
1 Wigert, Ben and Agrawal, Sangeeta. “Returning to the Office: The Current, Preferred and Future State of Remote Work.” Gallup. Aug. 31, 2022
2 Courtney, Emily, “Remote Work Stats & Trends: Navigating Work From Home Jobs,” Flexjobs.com. 2022
3 Guardian Life Insurance, Future Accommodations, 2022
4 Guardian Life Insurance, New era, new values, 2022
6 Supplemental Health, Guardian 2022
8 Guardian Life Insurance, Benefits Optimization, 2022
12 Guardian Life Insurance, New era, new values, 2022
16 Guardian’s Workforce Well-being Index™ is based on self-reported physical, emotional, and financial health and is a component of the Workplace Benefits Study.
17 Guardian Life Insurance, New era, new values, 2022
Information provided in this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Guardian does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.
Guardian® is a registered trademark of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. ©Copyright 2023 The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
Dean R. Pawlowski is Guardian Life’s national PEO director. He has been involved in the PEO industry for 10-plus years in multiple capacities serving the insurance needs of his clients and vendor partners. He joined Guardian in January of 2022 to restructure and put more focus on an end-to-end solution for their PEO customers as well as build a team that will grow their footprint in the industry moving forward.