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HELPING EMPLOYEES MANAGE PANDEMIC STRESS: THE NEW ROLE OF EAPS

THE NEW BENEFITS LANDSCAPE: THE INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF EAPS & FLEX PLANS

As vaccinations roll out across the country, we can finally see the end of this long pandemic journey. Even as the crisis slowly abates, however, employees are still dealing with the fallout—and the related stress. MetLife’s 18th Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study found that 81 percent of workers are experiencing financial problems and 77 percent are worried about job security, workload, and other workplace issues. Health concerns about the virus still abound.

The impact of these concerns on employee mental health plays out in the workplace as employees struggle to stay engaged and remain productive. Maintaining physical health in the face of stress is also a challenge. Over the past year, employee assistance programs (EAPs) played a crucial role in supporting employees when they needed it the most. 

Internal MetLife data from March to December 2020 show that EAP use not only increased dramatically in 2020, but the reasons employees used the programs and how they connected with help evolved as well. Educating clients about these trends and the support EAPs provide can help PEOS ensure clients remain supported through the end of the pandemic and are ready for whatever comes next. 

 

EMPLOYEES FACE NEW & EVOLVING STRESSORS

When it comes to supporting employee mental health via EAPs, 2020 was a seminal year. Employee use of EAPs understandably increased, but the ways employees accessed that support also changed. With much of the country under stay-at-home orders, EAP providers witnessed significant growth in virtual counseling and phone sessions. EAP website engagement and the use of digital resources, such as self-care tools, also increased. The latter offered an essential alternative to employees who could not discuss their problems at home—because for some employees, their stress involved their families. 

People were struggling. Last year, the most common EAP calls focused on anxiety issues and separation or divorce. Calls related to workplace stress and personal stress also went up. The small silver lining of these trends is that they revealed a growing awareness that EAPs provide mental health support. This represents a shift from previous use trends, which focused more on addiction and legal issues. 

 

HOW PEOS HELP 

How the pandemic has permanently changed work and life is still to be determined. However, one thing is sure—there’s a new standard for supporting the holistic well-being of employees that includes their physical health, mental health, and even financial health. PEOs can lean on the pandemic experience to demonstrate why this is vital and how employers can make it happen. For example, providing employers with an EAP offering that includes virtual and in-person counseling and other digital resources will remain essential. 

The pandemic also reinforced the importance of benefits communication as it correlates to use. The Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that 57 percent of employers increased their EAP communication efforts in response to the COVID crisis. As we witnessed, employees responded in kind. By supporting and expanding employee communication, PEOs can drive increased engagement. Specifically, PEOs should emphasize EAPs as a tool for improving employee mental health. A MetLife report about the benefits of PEOs shows 66 percent of employees with access to EAPs said they are resilient, compared to 46 percent of those without the benefit.

 

SUPPORTING THE WHOLE EMPLOYEE 

Finally, PEOs can help their clients explore other voluntary benefits that further holistic health and well-being—and help employers attract and retain talent in the process. For example, small business employees have shown increased interest in non-traditional benefits such as critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance, health savings accounts (HSAs), financial planning tools and workshops, and legal services. 

These benefits provide employees with additional safety nets that can reduce the stress associated with unexpected health challenges or financial concerns. They round out traditional health benefits to create a workforce that’s truly well.

The pandemic will eventually come to an end, lifting a significant burden off employers and their workforces. That said, employee stress will always be a factor in workplace productivity and job satisfaction. By showing employers the significance of a holistic benefits approach that includes mental health, PEOs can add value to their relationships—and build even more resiliency into their client’s businesses.

 

GEOFF VANDAL

PEO National Sales Director

MetLife

Tampa, Florida

 

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