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Employer-Worker Disconnects on Health and Well-Being

Employer-Worker Disconnects on Health and Well-Being

Al Waller: The future of work is a hot topic in today’s post-pandemic turbulent economy, especially as disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence find their way into industry.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth SM. I’m your host, Al Waller. Joining me is Catherine Collinson, founding CEO and president of nonprofit Transamerica Institute® and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies®. In this first part of a two-part episode, she’ll be discussing a new report from her team titled Stepping Into the Future: Employers, Workers, and the Multigenerational Workforce. It examines employers’ offerings and workers’ unmet needs. It is based on a survey of 1,800 for-profit U.S. employers, and it features comparisons with a survey of 5,700 workers in for-profit companies.

Catherine, what are the topline findings?

Catherine Collinson: Employers are grappling with workforce issues ranging from attracting and retaining talent to productivity, flexibility, and return-to-work policies. In our rapidly evolving environment, many are reevaluating their business practices and benefit offerings, but the question is whether they are in sync with employees’ needs.

To put some numbers behind employers’ predicament, our research found that 69% of employers cite one or more workforce-related issues as major concerns for their company’s leadership, and more than six in 10 (61%) reevaluated their health, retirement, and other benefit offerings in 2022.

Al Waller: These findings are extraordinary. During my career as a Human Resources consultant, we didn’t typically see this level of concern, as employers typically held the upper hand. I think the fall-out from the pandemic significantly altered the landscape for employers, and doing business as usual just won’t cut it anymore.

A lot of companies went under, people saw their jobs disappear, or their demands expanded due to telecommuting, which managed appropriately provides flexibility and savings, but on the flip-side could provide for abuse placing employees on a 24/7 treadmill.

Today, I think both employers and employees do share a greater sense of their mortality. To that point, what did your research reveal about employers’ commitments to their employees?

Catherine Collinson: Most employers feel responsible for their employees. More than eight in 10 share a sense of responsibility for helping their employees keep their skills up-to-date and relevant, achieve work-life balance, maintain their mental health, and maintain their long-term health and well-being.

Al Waller: Based on my experience, these are very high percentages. So, I have to ask if the research explores the extent to which employers are backing up this sense of responsibility through their business practices and benefit offerings?

Catherine Collinson: That’s a pertinent question – and you’re onto something. We saw disconnects in the survey findings regarding employers themselves, along with some employer-worker disconnects.

Al Waller: Let’s dive in. We’ve been hearing a lot about flexibility in the news these days with lots of headlines regarding employers and back-to-work policies. What did you learn on that front?

Catherine Collinson: The importance of flexibility is something everyone agrees on. In fact, more than nine in 10 employers and workers agree that flexibility is important.

When we delved into employers’ offerings, the survey found 93% of employers offer one or more alternative work arrangements ranging from flexible schedules, remote work, and hybrid work to compressed workweeks, job sharing, and the opportunity to take a sabbatical. So, in my view, employers are not being given enough credit where credit is due.

Al Waller: Agreed – I think we’ve come a long way. I can remember lobbying long and hard to get clients to buy in on the flex arrangements you just mentioned….it wasn’t easy.

But with advancements in technology and necessity brought on by the pandemic – when managed properly on both sides – it can provide a boost to morale, productivity, and it expands the pool for talent and opportunity.

As a matter of fact, both of my sons love their work and their jobs but also their respective cities – thanks to this flexibility, each can have it all without moving.

Another hot topic these days is the ability for workers to manage the requirements of their employers and work-life balance. Especially during the pandemic when we were in lockdown and workers were working from home and juggling household responsibilities, the challenges intensified. How are people faring these days?

Catherine Collinson: Work-life balance is an area where we see some interesting findings and some disconnects. Employers and workers alike agree on the importance of work-life balance; however, employers may be overestimating the extent to which they think they’re supporting their employees. Specifically, 96% of employers believe they are helpful in supporting their employees’ work-life balance, but only 75% of workers feel their employers are helpful in this way.

Al Waller: During my many years of experience, I found that supporting and managing work-life balance is a journey with lots of course corrections and recalibrations along the way, as the economy and employers’ needs evolve and as workers’ personal circumstances change. However, the risk of burnout is real, and it is something we have to carefully protect ourselves against by safeguarding work-life balance.

What are some other insights your team’s research found?

Catherine Collinson: As we’ve often discussed on this podcast, people have the potential to live longer than ever before, and a workers’ time spent in the workforce could easily be 40 or 50 or more years. At the same time, the employers’ needs are constantly evolving. For workers and employers, it’s imperative that we all keep our job skills up to date.

In the survey findings, we see a dramatic disconnect. While 88% of employers feel responsible for helping their employees keep their job skills up-to-date, only 17% place a great deal of emphasis on professional development among employees of all ages, including those age 50 and older. At the same time, only 49% of workers indicate they are keeping their job skills-up-to date so they can work as long as they want and need.

Al Waller: That’s a huge disconnect!! If employers want to stay competitive, they need to invest in their employees. At the same time, workers need to seek out opportunities to grow their skills through on-the-job experience, training, and continuing education.

In addition to keeping job skills current, it’s especially important that we all maintain our health. What did the research find?

Catherine Collinson: Employers and workers are indeed concerned about health – there’s some level of agreement, but there’s also a disconnect. Let me explain. Eighty-six percent of employers are concerned about their employees’ physical health, a well-founded concern because 69% of workers are concerned about their physical well-being. But, in contrast to their concerns, only 34% of employers offer a workplace wellness program to support their employees’ health and well-being.

Al Waller: I wish the news were better on that front.

Catherine Collinson: Actually, in recent years, there is some good news. The number of employers offering workplace wellness programs has been growing. It's not there yet because it's still only 34%, but the good news is we have seen some growth in our survey work.

And for our listeners who are interested in learning more, we’ve dedicated a section of our website at transamericainstitute.org to workplace wellness programs.

Al Waller: Let’s move onto mental health – an issue of great concern that is now at the forefront. It effects the quality and enjoyment of life for workers and has productivity implications for employers. What did your research find?

Catherine Collinson: Mental health is top of mind for all. Most employers (85%) are concerned about their employees’ mental health. These concerns are well-founded as the majority of workers (61%) are concerned about their own mental health. Forty-three percent of workers indicate they often feel anxious and depressed – and the percentage is even higher among Gen Z and Millennial workers. Yet, the research finds a glaring disconnect, only one-third of employers (33%) offer an employee assistance program (EAP). For our listeners who need mental health support, Transamerica Institute has recently implemented a new mental health guide on our website at transamericainstitute.org.

Al Waller: Yes – and on that note, Mihaela Vincze and I have dedicated many episodes of this podcast to mental health-related topics. Please check them out if you haven’t already.

For our listeners, I’d also like to underscore that if you or a loved one are experiencing a potentially life-threatening mental health emergency, please seek immediate help by calling 911 or calling the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Catherine, before we wrap up today, I’d like to circle back to one of the research findings where you mentioned that many employers have actually begun reevaluating their benefit offerings. What more should our listeners know?

Catherine Collinson: My message for employers is to ensure that your business practices and benefit offerings are well-aligned with employees’ needs. Doing so could improve employee recruitment and retention, and it could enhance the employee experience. If you’re unsure of your employees’ needs, consider asking them by conducting a survey.

My message for workers is that many employers have reevaluated their benefit offerings and many are continuing to do so. Therefore, it’s especially important to read announcements and pay attention to any new benefits, so you can take advantage of them. For job seekers, benefit offerings are a meaningful aspect of an overall compensation package. Be sure to do some comparison shopping while considering employment opportunities.

In short, my message for both employers and workers is to do your homework.

Al Waller: Thanks, Catherine, for your insights and helpful tips.

For our listeners, if you’re interested in reading the new report Stepping Into the Future: Employers, Workers, and the Multigenerational Workforce along with other informative materials, please visit www.transamericainstitute.org. Also, please join us for Part Two of this two-part episode which focuses on retirement security.

Until our next episode, stay safe, be well, and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Catherine Collinson is the founding president and CEO of nonprofit Transamerica Institute and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, and she is a champion for Americans who are at risk of not achieving a financially secure retirement. With two decades of retirement industry-related experience, Catherine is a nationally recognized voice on workforce, aging, and retirement trends. She was named a 2018 Influencer in Aging by PBS’ Next Avenue. In 2016, she was honored with a Hero Award from Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) for her tireless efforts in helping improve retirement security among women.