“Our staff is our most important asset.” How many business leaders have soberly intoned this mantra, yet the COVID-19 pandemic has tested its meaning like never before.
RGA’s research suggests employer concern regarding overstressed workers may be fueling demand for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). For the first time since 2014, RGA has surveyed major Group Life, Group Long Term Disability (LTD), and Worksite carriers on value-added services. More than 20 insurers participated and the findings were notable: nearly one-quarter (24%) reported offering employer supported services through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Compared to RGA’s 2014 survey, EAP sold as alongside basic group life coverage for employees increased 100%, whereas other services declined, and the use of EAP programs packaged with one or more group products rose 15% since 2014.
The shift makes sense. Even before the unprecedented pressures of a pandemic, studies have shown worsening mental health and challenges balancing work with personal obligations. A 2020 report by telehealth provider Ginger shows that prior to COVID-19 employees were already experiencing high levels of stress, and the global health crisis has only contributed to the financial and social pressures affecting individuals and families.
Originally designed to address the negative effects of substance abuse on employee productivity, EAPs have evolved to help employees manage life events and stressors through free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. These programs come with and without “organizational components” or onsite services, such as counseling, that can add expense.
A Focus on Balance
EAP programs have suffered low utilization historically, a trend some industry observers attribute to persistent stigma around mental health issues. However, RGA’s research reveals some signs that employers may perceive a change in attitudes. RGA’s survey revealed that the EAP without organizational components (71%) was the second most commonly offered service by carriers. The majority of respondents packaged value-added services with one or more insurance products, and only EAP services were sold as a stand-alone option.
An overall emphasis on mental, physical and financial wellness in the workplace could be fueling this popularity and extend to other services oriented toward work-life balance. Overall, the most popular services included financial counseling (67%), bereavement counseling services (67%), identity theft (67%), and estate planning (62%). However, compared to six years prior, 2020 carriers proved less likely to offer patient advocacy and beneficiary services, and traditional offerings like identity theft and travel assistance failed to gain ground.
Instead, work-life benefits, estate planning support and legal services saw large increases among plans in 2020 when compared to 2014. Often these services were sold as distinct benefits employees must elect and were less likely to be bundled together with one or more insurance products.
It is perhaps unsurprising that, amid an ongoing global medical and financial crisis, employers would perceive a recruiting and retention advantage in offering stand-alone consulting benefits designed to help employees get their personal affairs in order. In many ways, the growing popularity of these benefits simply reflects a changed reality. Widespread school and office closures, lockdowns and layoffs have forced many to balance radically new work routines, additional caregiving duties for children and the elderly, rising financial strain from lost household income, and more. At the same time, enforced social isolation can impact mental health, productivity and overall employee morale.
The availability of services to help employees navigate emotional challenges and plan for the future may offer both employers and employees greater peace of mind.