How voluntary benefits build a firm foundation for employees during shaky times

January 18, 2023
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The pandemic tore huge holes in the safety net for employees, and many are still trying to mend their finances. According to a new survey by Unum Group, the parent company of Colonial Life, more employees are financially fragile than employers may realize. Companies should take a fresh look at the benefits they offer to make sure they are supporting struggling employees and their families.

According to the Unum Group survey, 46% of U.S. workers have less than $1,000 in their checking/savings account at any given time. Almost half (48%) would be able to maintain their finances for only two months if they had to miss work due to an injury, accident or serious medical condition. This is up 8% since 2020 and is most prominent for Millennials and Gen Z workers. In a time of high inflation, this fragility means many employees are struggling to keep themselves and their families secure.

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46% of U.S. workers have less than $1,000 in their checking/savings account at any given time — up 6% since 20201

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48% of U.S. workers could last 2 months or less if they couldn't work — up 8% since 20201

Employees want -- no, expect -- employers to help

In these uncertain times, employees want more from their employers than a steady paycheck — they need and expect help with their financial security and wellness.

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66% of employees say it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure they are financially secure and well2

Making your people feel supported can mean the difference between a satisfied employee and one who's scanning the job boards. According to industry research group LIMRA, employees are a whopping 7.4 times more likely to stay at their job if they feel their employer cares about them.3 Hear benefits experts from LIMRA and Colonial Life discuss this research in this recent HR Trends podcast episode.

The benefits that make a difference

"Caring is hard to quantify," said Kimberly Landry, Associate Research Director at LIMRA, "but providing generous benefits are one of the best ways to show you care." Time away from the workplace — especially paid time off — provides a backstop against catastrophe for families with little savings. Emergency savings programs help do the same thing. Both of these benefits are highly valued by employees of almost all generations, according to the latest research.

graphic with title "What Boomers want (Ages 58-76)". 1. Generous paid time off (49%). 2. Flexible /remote work options (34%). 3. Emergency savings (25%).
graphic with title "What Gen X want (Ages 42-57)". 1. Generous paid time off (42%). 2. Flexible /remote work options (34%). 3. Emergency savings (32%).
graphic with title "What Millennials want (Ages 26-41)". 1. Generous paid time off (39%). 2. Flexible /remote work options (35%). 3. Emergency savings (33%).
graphic with title "What Gen Z want (Ages 18-25)". 1. Generous paid time off (42%). 2. Flexible /remote work options (37%). 3. Emergency savings (30%).

Source: Unum consumer research of 1,000 full-time, U.S., working adults, November 2022.

However, the survey also shows that nearly 4 in 10 employees feel their benefits package is not strong enough. Here are some ways to strengthen yours:

  • Recognize that more is more. LIMRA suggests crafting a benefits package that offers as many benefits as you can, with something for everyone in your workforce. "With five generations in the workforce, employers need to offer a large number of benefits employees can choose from based on their individual circumstances," said Landry.
  • Reinforce your benefits education and communication. Focus your communications to make sure employees are aware of the plans being offered — and the plans they've signed up for. And rethink the emphasis on total self-service for benefits, especially for younger workers who have less experience buying and using insurance coverage. "This is where the future has to go," said Cindy Nevers, National Sales Leader Voluntary Benefits at Colonial Life. "Take time to remind employees during the year about their benefits and where they might need to leverage them."
  • Consider voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits like accident, hospitalization and critical illness can protect employees with minimal savings by helping pay for out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and deductibles when the unexpected occurs. They can also help employers offer more quantity and choice, while allowing employees to tailor benefits to fit their age, lifestyle, income and other circumstances.

As an employer, you can be the one to make a giant difference in your employees' financial security, by offering benefits that help keep them supported in shaky times. Employers who step up for their people are likely to find their efforts pay off by making it easier to find and keep the people who make their companies great.

1 Unum, Survey of 1,000 Full-time U.S. Workers, November 2022.
2 Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research, 2022 Workplace Wellness Survey, 2022.
3 LIMRA, Benefits and Employee Attitude Tracker (BEAT) Study, 2022.