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Employee Well-being Study Reveals Wide Disconnect

Industry Trends and Research

While most companies believe they are doing a good job in supporting employee well-being, a new study finds that most employees disagree with that sentiment, revealing a sharp disconnect in perceptions. 

Mind, Body and Wallet, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s 10th annual workplace benefits study, finds that 6 in 10 organizations agree that they address employees’ financial health—including their ability to pay bills, debt level and saving and investing in their futures—extremely well. 

Yet only one in five workers strongly agree that their employer does a good job of helping them with financial planning and how to achieve their financial goals. At the same time, however, many employees believe financial planning is only for the wealthy, as 36% feel that they do not have enough income to work with a financial or insurance professional.

Even so, employers aim to address this misperception, as 58% of them seek to increase employee benefits education and financial advice.

“The disconnect between employee and employer perceptions is particularly striking,” says Chris Smith, Head of Guardian’s Group Benefits business. “Employers have a real opportunity to close the perception gap by revisiting how they support employee well-being and helping their workers more fully utilize the benefits they already provide.”

Workforce Well-being Index

To monitor how Americans feel about their overall health and well-being, Guardian created the Workforce Well-Being Index in 2016, which measures self-reported emotional, physical and financial health, as well as attitudes toward well-being among full-time working adults. 

Findings from the latest report suggest that there has been an overall decline in workforce well-being since the start of the pandemic, with COVID-19 (50%) as well as money and finances (46%) being the two leading causes of stress in workers’ lives. 

According to Guardian, the number of workers with insurance coverage and retirement savings has decreased since 2016, which has played a significant role in mental health. In 2016, one in five working Americans (21%) reported that they had no retirement savings plan, with Millennials and single parents even less likely to be saving for retirement. In 2021, 3 in 10 working Americans indicate they do not own a retirement savings plan, with Gen Z now the least likely to be saving for retirement. They are also the least likely to feel their employer is offering benefits that adequately address their personal financial situation. 

Benefits Make a Difference

The study also confirms, however, that benefits make a true difference in employees’ lives. Nearly half of working Americans, for example, believe they would face financial hardship if they didn’t have access to the benefits they receive through work. Similarly, the same percentage say that, because of the pandemic, having access to benefits through their employer is even more important.

And while many employees report that they don’t believe that their employer cares about their overall well-being, organizations are putting significant resources and money behind expanding these very programs. In fact, over half of employers (55%) believe that the lines are blurring between work and personal lives among today’s employees, which adds pressure for companies to meet their workforce’s expectations. As such, organizations are working toward making strides in this area: 

  • 64% have expanded the use of wellness, preventive and health initiatives; 
  • 58% now offer more flexible hours, work schedules or telecommuting;
  • 58% provide accommodations to assist employees in returning to work following a leave of absence or serious illness; and 
  • 52% offer support for employees with caregiving needs.

Yet, despite employer efforts, only a minority of workers take advantage of health and wellness programs made available to them. More than half of workers (54%) are aware of wellness programs offered through their organization, however, only 28% have taken advantage of those services. 

Guardian observes that this potentially could be due to the perceived stigma surrounding well-being, as workers may not want to admit to their colleagues, their HR team or themselves that they could use some “help” by requesting participation in these programs.

Additionally, it seems that those who need the resources the most are the ones who are least interested in making use of them if they were offered. Guardian found that 47% of employees on the lower end of the salary scale ($20,000–$49,000) would make use of financial advice, while 61% of those comparatively well-off with a salary range of $100,000–$149,000 would be interested.

“Communication from employers is critical not only to remind employees about the resources available to them, but to normalize mental, physical and financial health needs,” the firm says. In addition to frequency, employers should consider utilizing multiple channels to promote well-being resources to their employees, as emails or leadership talking points alone are not enough, the study further emphasizes.