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Meet the employee benefits trends that will define 2022

With any luck, 2022 will put the pandemic into the rearview mirror. But its effects will continue to loom large, not just for benefits brokers but for the United States workforce as a whole.

Two major forces drive projected benefits trends for 2022: the pandemic, and the Great Resignation, which saw 3.6 million people quit their jobs in May 2021 alone.1 For brokers and employers, these twin juggernauts mean a redoubling of efforts in keeping employees healthy and keeping them from leaving.

While premiums aren’t expected to rise significantly for 2022,2 the pandemic has exacted other costs: burnout and a spike in mental health issues, a lack of job satisfaction and a child care crisis that has disproportionately affected women. The trends below all point to ways that the benefits landscape is poised to address these issues by giving employees more of what they’re asking for—and more of what they need to stay in the workforce.

Comprehensive range of health care benefits

The more types of benefits offered, the better off the employee—and the business. Eighty-nine percent of employees whose companies offer 10 or more health-related benefits say they’re confident they can afford the health care they need, compared with just 74% among employees who are offered five or fewer. Employees with more options also report feeling more energized and more cared for by their employer—and less likely to change jobs.3

Supplemental insurance is gaining particular steam among employers. In early 2021, 42% of employers offered hospital indemnity plans, and 57% offered critical illness plans. But 65% said they planned on offering hospital indemnity in 2022 or beyond, and 76% said the same of critical illness coverage.4 It’s an appropriate response to what employees want now: A third of employees believe supplemental insurance is more important now than they did before COVID-19 hit the world.5

Pet insurance

Employees’ calls for more comprehensive health benefits extend to their pets, too—including the 23 million that found homes during the pandemic.6 Only 15% of employers currently offer pet insurance, but the market is projected to grow 7%, compounded annually, through 2027.7,8 Consider it catnip for new talent; 72% of people say they feel like they can’t reliably afford veterinary care.9

PTO overhaul

Parental leave, unlimited leave, company holidays and sick leave are all coming under review. Part of this is driven by legislative changes: More than a dozen states altered sick leave mandates to accommodate the need for sick leave,10 such as New York’s law stating that businesses with more than 100 employees must provide up to 56 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year, with requirements varying for smaller companies.11 (In fact, 46% of employers work with a third party to monitor state and local rules about PTO, up from 38% in 2018.)12

The struggles of working parents during the pandemic haven’t gone unnoticed by employers. While the length of leave for birth parents hasn’t shifted significantly since 2015, the percentage of employers offering paid parental leave after maternity disability leave ends has shot up from 24% in 2015 to 61% in 2021. Adoptive parents aren’t left behind either: In 2021, 55% of employers offered paid adoption leave, up from 38% in 2018.

Parents or not, the PTO trend that’s most likely to make employees salivate is catching on: unlimited PTO. Most employers don’t offer it, and when they do, it’s not available to everyone. But 20% of employers offered unlimited PTO to at least some employees in 2021, whereas just three years prior that number was at 14%.12

Paid holidays are also coming under review. Nine percent of companies now offer Juneteenth as a paid holiday,12 and “floating holidays,” in which employees can take PTO for culturally specific holidays not recognized by the employer at large, may be gaining traction.

More engaging enrollment

While 72% of employers say their workforce understands their health care costs, only 59% of employees say they actually do.5 Enrollment can’t solve this benefits literacy gap alone, but it can help employees with the first step and set them up to make better use of their benefits. While open enrollment isn’t anything new to brokers or employers, it’s stressful to employees, who report high stress when engaging in benefits-related activities.5

Technology can help make for a smoother enrollment, and today’s employees expect to manage their benefits online. But 53% of employees still prefer to talk with an advisor in person, beating out video meetups (31%) and online chats (30%).5

Mental health solutions

Even before the pandemic, behavioral and mental health benefits were already noted as a trend. The stresses of 2020 and beyond have moved the need for mental health services into overdrive. One third of the U.S. workforce reported that mental health was negatively affecting their work performance.5

Mental health benefits support employees, and they support employers, too—which is more crucial than ever amid The Great Resignation. More than 40% of employees who had strong support from their employer said they’re less likely to leave their jobs as a result, while 16% of employees who didn’t feel supported by their workplace said they’re more likely to leave.3

In addition to solutions such as virtual counseling, mindfulness programs and stress reduction offerings, workplaces are expanding structural changes that can help their workforces alleviate strain. While only 15% of employers offer this option, benefits experts are positioning a four-day workweek as a way to improve well-being.13 Other companies are offering companywide mental health days; LinkedIn even gave its full-time employees a paid week off.14 This doesn’t just support employees with existing mental health issues—it can help prevent burnout, which plagues 74% of employees at least some of the time.15

Child care

The two overarching themes of 2021—the pandemic and mass resignations—collided to push child care benefits higher on many employers’ radars. With 1.2 million parents (disproportionately mothers) of children 5 to 17 out of the labor force from February to September 2020, employers saw firsthand how child care dictates people’s ability to work. As a result, 63% of employers who have child care benefits plan to expand them.16

There’s a possibility that legislators will provide an assist down the road: A California assembly member introduced a bill that would require large employers to provide backup child care.17 The measure didn’t progress, but it could be the first beat of a chorus to come.

Tuition coverage

When the nation’s biggest private employer announces it’s going to make college tuition free for its employees, benefits advisors listen. Walmart’s “Live Better U” program had cost employees $1 a day to earn a college degree or high school diploma, gain professional certifications or earn a skilled trade diploma.18,19 The program launched in 2018, but in 2021 Walmart announced it would remove the cost altogether.

Walmart isn’t the first employer to offer tuition assistance—in fact, 56% of U.S. employers offer help for undergraduate or graduate education, and 8% offer student loan repayment assistance.20 But with the employer of 1.5 million escalating “assistance” to “no-cost education,” other employers may need to up the ante to stay competitive.

We can help you answer some of these trends. Contact your Aflac representative to learn more about how our products and services can help you stay on top of what’s top of mind in 2022.