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From Family to Finances: How Benefits Demonstrate Empathy to Employees

From Family to Finances: How Benefits Demonstrate Empathy to Employees
Posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

With annual enrollment approaching, HR is laser-focused on ensuring that benefits selection is a success for employees—and empathy must be a part of the equation.

From technology to staffing, all aspects of benefits enrollment will be top of mind for HR professionals in the coming weeks. And with good reason—benefits are vital for workforce retention, and they play a key role in supporting employee well-being, so it’s critical to have a successful AE.

But benefits can do even more—they’re an important way that organizations can demonstrate empathy with their employees. Benefits show that leadership cares about their employees’ needs and understands their feelings about health, finances and the numerous other aspects of our lives that benefits affect.

In today’s tight labor market, benefits such as health coverage and dental plans have become table stakes. But according to our 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, there are many facets of benefits offerings that employees rate as empathetic. Here are three ways benefits can make a different in an organization’s “empathy quotient.”

Family Comes First

In our 2019 data, employees overwhelmingly (95%) listed family benefits as empathetic. After-school programs and daycare were noted as examples, suggesting that working parents want their employer to understand the importance of childcare in their daily lives. And, when asked what benefits were most important for showing empathy, employees listed flexible work hours as number one.

Flexible work hours allow employees to be with their family members while also balancing work. They make it easier to take children or elderly relatives to appointments, or to stay home and work when a family member is sick. Paid maternity and paternity leave were also listed as empathetic by 94% of employees, all of which shows that employees need time to be with their families as well as accomplish their work tasks. When companies account for this need with their benefits offering, employees view their employer as empathetic.

The Value of Mental Well-Being

Over 42 million adults suffer from anxiety, and 16 million struggle with depression, which is estimated to cost up to $44 billion in lost productivity every year. In the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, 90% of employees said companies should do more to address the overall well-being of their employees, and support for mental health must definitely be a part of that effort.

Benefits can make the difference by empathizing with employees’ needs and valuing their mental well-being. For example, coverage options for mental health services was noted as important by 94% of employees, and it makes perfect sense that having access to doctors and prescription coverage can help address mental health issues.

But it also goes beyond insurance—92% said flexible work hours are important for mental health, and 91% said companies should assess the workload of those who typically work past normal business hours. This shows that supporting mental health requires empathizing with people’s daily working lives and making sure those daily demands don’t become unreasonable.

Containing Costs

It’s no secret that healthcare costs keep rising, and medical debt also remains a serious threat to financial well-being, with an estimated one in six Americans having a past-due healthcare bill on their credit report. Yet our latest empathy data shows a disconnect between leaders and employees when it comes to the cost of benefits. Employees say lowering the cost is the most empathetic action related to benefits, but CEOs say providing a higher quality of coverage is most empathetic.

In light of these findings, employers should explore ways to avoid passing costs on to their employees, and pursue financial well-being tools and benefits, such as savings vehicles, to help employees be better prepared in case they are faced with unexpected medical bills.

As HR gets ready for its busiest time of year, it’s crucial to remember that benefits are more than a signup process, and they’re more than deductions from a paycheck. They’re also an expression of empathy with employees, and they have the ability to make a positive impact on employees’ daily lives.