New MetLife study underlines need for tailored benefits to address employee well-being challenges

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many U.S. employees across the country to transition to remote work, the youngest and oldest generations are divided on its impact. MetLife’s 19th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study finds more than half of workers in their 20s (51 percent), including Gen Z and young millennials, say their work-life balance is better now than before the pandemic, while only one-quarter of baby boomers say the same.

While employees across generations feel their holistic well-being – which includes physical, mental, social and financial health – has declined, boomers are experiencing the negative impacts of remote work more strongly. According to MetLife’s research, boomers say boundary-setting issues (33 percent) and fewer casual conversations, like watercooler chats (42 percent), are why they are less happy with their work situation now. Conversely, younger workers say the ability to spend time with their family (40 percent) and work in a better location (30 percent) are why their work-life balance has improved.

“All employees are feeling the effects of the pandemic – but it’s clear that the impact varies greatly across the different generations,” said Todd Katz, executive vice president, Group Benefits, MetLife. “Employers need to thoughtfully consider these nuances as they start to reimagine the workplace experience in the months to come, and beyond.”

Fostering a culture of well-being across generations

Understanding the different needs and values of employees across generations will be crucial for employers as they address the declining well-being of the workforce. For example, the study finds younger workers prefer flexibility in where they work over a higher salary, while boomers are more likely to say they miss in-person interactions with colleagues.

The study also finds a strong connection between time off and improved employee well-being. To address their well-being concerns, 36 percent of twenty-something workers said they took more paid time off this year, mostly for sick days for physical and mental health, while only 8 percent of boomers said the same, citing travel restrictions and too much work as top reasons for not doing so.

“Employers and managers have a critical role to play in supporting employee well-being,” said Katz. “Providing flexibility, addressing workload concerns, and promoting taking time off can make a difference for employees’ overall health.”

Benefits should address varied needs, improve employee resilience

Offering benefits that work together to complement and adapt to employees’ life stages and personal needs, as well as address their physical, mental, social, and financial health, is critical. In fact, employees who say their employer offers a benefits package that meets their needs are 42 percent more likely to feel resilient (e.g. able to adapt and rebound amid adversity). This is

particularly important for employers as the most resilient employees are more productive (96 percent), engaged (91 percent) and holistically well (68 percent) – among other benefits – as compared to the national average. And yet, two in five employees say their employer isn’t offering benefits or programs that support their well-being during the pandemic.

Boomers are increasingly prioritizing benefits that support their physical health this year, including 71 percent who say vision care is a must-have benefit, up from 53 percent last year. Meanwhile, younger employees are more interested this year in benefits that positively impact their mental and financial health. Must-have benefits for twenty-something employees are legal services and student debt assistance (both up 19 percentage points since last year), as well as life insurance (up 11 percentage points since last year).

“The pandemic has shed a clear light on what employees need from their employers – not only right now, but in the future,” said Katz. “As the workplace continues to evolve and become more personalized, employers need to heed the wants and needs of their employees, and then reflect these key learnings in benefits and work experiences they provide.”

Research Methodology

MetLife’s 19th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) was conducted in December 2020 and January 2021 and consists of two distinct studies fielded by Rainmakers CSI – an international strategy, insight and planning consultancy. The employer survey includes 2,500 interviews with benefits decision makers and influencers at companies with at least two employees. The core employee survey consists of 2,651 interviews with full-time employees, ages 21 and over, at companies with at least two employees.

About Rainmakers CSI

Rainmakers CSI is a UK-based global strategy, insight and planning consultancy with a focus on delivering game-changing commercial impact. Since our inception in 2007, we’ve worked collaboratively with leading companies to help define opportunities for brands, categories and businesses. Our expertise spans not only Financial Services, but also Food and Drink, Beauty, Healthcare, Telecoms, Technology, Entertainment, and Travel. Our programs and client relationships span all continents, with 50 percent of our work originating in the US. For more information, visit www.rainmakerscsi.com.

About MetLife

MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), through its subsidiaries and affiliates ("MetLife"), is one of the world's leading financial services companies, providing insurance, annuities, employee benefits and asset management to help its individual and institutional customers navigate their changing world. Founded in 1868, MetLife has operations in more than 40 markets and holds leading market positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. For more information, visit www.metlife.com.