Less than half of employees (49%) felt they received good support from their employers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and are now looking for a better work–life balance, The latest Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) report, Boosting employee engagement through benefits choice, highlights how the needs and experiences of different groups vary significantly and organisations need to offer a broad range of benefits to meet these needs. The report also reveals what employees want and expect from their employers, what health solutions are most important and which benefits they most value.

According to the MMB study, employees want support in the workplace when it comes to managing benefits around mental health. More than a third (34%) of respondents said they are more likely to stay with a company that has strong mental healthcare provisions in place. There are significant variations in healthcare provisions between what different cohorts of employees want, with 33% of ethnic minorities valuing tools to help build skills, like mindfulness and resilience, to better cope with pressure and 36% of women valuing services to help support others with mental health issues, compared to 29% of men. Almost half (49%) of LGBTQ+ employees say they highly value support with mental health, resilience and personal relationship concerns, compared to 38% of non-LGBTQ+ employees.

The research also found that the broader a company’s benefits offering, the happier, more loyal and more productive their workforce. Employees are now embracing digital healthcare innovations to help address health issues for them and their families. Out of the employees who used virtual healthcare services, the vast majority (72%) intend to keep using them in future. However, the move to virtual care differs by generation, with 30% of Gen X and millennials responding that remote access was important and only 22% of Boomers agreeing.

Chris Bailey, Partner and MMB Leader UK and Ireland, said: “Employees want to feel valued and receive benefits that meet their needs. Our report shows what employees want and expect from their employers and provides tailored insights and recommendations on what employers should do to meet the evolving needs of their workforce. Moving forward, employers are encouraged to consider embedding digital offerings within their benefits plans as attitudes are now more accepting towards digital healthcare and we expect this to continue in future.”

According to the report, minority groups bore the brunt of lockdown from a physical and lifestyle perspective. The MMB report reveals how many employers are failing to support a diverse workforce with their benefits offerings, with only 17% of ethnic minorities feeling their employer “cares a great deal” about their health and well-being and 63% experiencing a higher degree of stress in everyday life. While 24% of men said their employer supported their home-office environment, only 16% of women agreed. Lower earners and people with part-time roles have the least access to benefits, despite needing the most support and help.

The is a clear disconnect between what companies are doing to support their people and how it is perceived by employees which is illustrated in MMB’s recent UK benefits and technology trends report. In this report just over half (55%) of employees stated they felt they received the support they needed at the right time despite a majority of companies (69%) increasing their benefit spend considerably during the pandemic. This suggests employees are yet to have noticed a tangible difference in solutions being provided.

Mr Bailey concluded: “Employers are trusted and increasingly expected to support their employees. They need to create a positive workplace culture that promotes inclusion and allows people to bring their authentic selves to work and ensure the needs of the whole workforce are met when designing benefits. Business leaders should take into account that every employee is different and provide choice and flexibility to truly meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. Our findings demonstrate the clear return on investment for firms that get their benefits offerings right, and the worrying consequences for those that do not.”

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.