MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study: Small Businesses 2020

MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Series

The Work-Life Trends Shaping the Next Normal for US Small Businesses

As small business owners navigate shifting priorities, operating restrictions, and difficult decisions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, their entrepreneurial resilience and underlying optimism continue to shine through. MetLife’s new small business report, based on the 18th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study data,1 explores how the pandemic is affecting work-life dynamics and examines the strategic role benefits can play.  

2020 has been anything but business as usual for America’s 30.7 million small businesses.2

From business shutdowns through the day-to-day roller coaster of operating during a pandemic, small business owners shifted into crisis mode in March and never looked back. Even as many fight for business survival, small business leaders are at the forefront of defining the next normal for their companies, their employees, and the nation’s economy.

Before & after: COVID-19’s impact on the small business mindset

At the start of 2020, MetLife & the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Small Business Index hit a record high of 71.7, a reflection of small business owners’ positive outlook for the national and local economies, as well as their own businesses.3

By mid-year, based on the operational challenges and economic realities caused by COVID-19, 82% of small businesses were reporting concerns about the pandemic’s impact on their business, and 66% were concerned about having to stay closed or closing again due to another wave of COVID-19.4

Still, many small businesses have a positive outlook for the future. Among businesses that report having fewer employees than they did at the start of the year, 55% anticipate rehiring or bringing back most workers over the next six months.4

People priorities

Even before the pandemic, small business employees and employers were dealing with the effects of an increasingly complex work-life reality.

wave 2 start of covid-19

Small business employees look to their employers for support to navigate a variety of needs and stressors, both inside and outside of the workplace. Seventy-six percent believe their employers have a responsibility for their health and well-being, up eight percentage points over pre-COVID responses. Small business employers agree, with 70% saying they have a responsibility for their employees’ overall well-being.

The impact of holistic well-being: Employees who successfully manage the stress of the blended work-life world are more likely to feel productive, engaged, and valued at work, which can help drive tangible outcomes for small businesses.

Pre-pandemic, only 38% of small business employees see themselves as holistically well – or well across all four dimensions (physical, mental, social, and financial). And, after the start of the pandemic, three in four small business employees reported concerns about at least one aspect of their well-being as a result of the virus.

Improving holistic well-being among employees by one point on a seven-point scale can translate to overall increases of 9% in productivity, 12% in engagement, and 10% in loyalty for the employer.

The pivotal role for strategic benefits

Small business leaders recognize the strategic value of benefits, but also cite offering competitive benefits as their top business challenge pre-pandemic. Tied at the top of the list was employee productivity, followed closely by attracting and retaining top talent.

While COVID-19 brought crisis management, day-to-day operational concerns, and in some cases, business survival to the forefront, small business owners haven’t lost sight of these long-term challenges. As small business employers navigate the effects of the pandemic and their business’s recovery, a comprehensive approach to benefits can play a critical role in driving company and employee well-being. However, only one in three small businesses says they offer comprehensive benefits to their employees, citing costs as the biggest hurdle.

Voluntary – or employee-paid – benefits can provide a practical option for small business owners looking to strategically expand their benefits, but not their budgets. Forty-six percent of small business employees are interested in a wider array of benefits, even if they are responsible for paying all or part of the costs. 

Learn more about the small business mindset and how benefits can help them.

Download report

1 Wave 1 of MetLife’s 18th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study gathered pre-pandemic employer and employee insights (from late summer 2019) and Wave 2 gathered insights from the start of the pandemic (a narrower study fielded in early April 2020).

2 Small Business Administration, 2019.

3 MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index, Q1 2020.

4 MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll, June 3, 2020.