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The most important well-being programs, according to workers

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February 17, 2022
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This story originally appeared on Pyn and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

The most important well-being programs, according to workers

Most people know about the health care and retirement plans their employers offer, but when it comes to well-being, what other benefits could they provide? A whole host of programs, it turns out.

Employers are increasingly adding well-being programs, from apps to teach meditation to assistance with mortgages and college tuition, the two biggest financial commitments for millions of Americans. But which ones do workers prefer? Pyn compiled a list of well-being programs that workers rate as most valuable, according to a survey of 2,501 workers by Alight Solutions released in May 2021. New and continuing programs were ranked based on the value workers assigned to it in 2021, with tie-breakers ranked by the value in 2020, if available.

Do you need help understanding your doctor’s bill or want to try some comparison shopping for the best health care for you? Could a telehealth doctor’s appointment suit you as well as an actual visit? With the coronavirus pandemic still upending our lives, do you need help with childcare so that the next Zoom call goes smoothly? Have you struggled to eat well and stave off unhealthy weight gain?

To find out which programs are most in demand, take a look below.

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#22. Support and resources for caregivers

- 2021: 68% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 66% of employees find it valuable

About 45% of employees surveyed for the Bank of America’s 2019 Workplace Benefits Report have some caregiving duties, with the majority helping other adults, such as an elderly parent. They spend on average $3,200 a year, and miss about 12 hours of work because of responsibilities such as giving rides to medical appointments and shopping for groceries. Although 88% of companies offer resources for caregivers, only 29% of employees knew about the resources.

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#21. Parental support

- 2021: 70% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 66% of employees find it valuable

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many employees to work from home, juggling office and child care responsibilities. A McKinsey & Company report found that parents have been more likely to leave their jobs than nonparents during the so-called “Great Resignation” of 2021, and women more often than men, because of such factors as exhaustion and a lack of consistent child care. Parental support can help companies keep employees who might otherwise quit to spend more time on caregiving or for a job with more flexibility.

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#20. Higher education support

- 2021: 71% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 76% of employees find it valuable

Target announced in the summer of 2021 that it would pay for 100% of college tuition and textbooks at select schools for employees. It joins numerous other companies that offer assistance for higher education, among them Starbucks, Walmart, and Amazon. The programs can help to attract and keep valued employees by addressing an enormous contemporary problem: student debt, the second largest type of debt in the United States. The drop in value assigned to higher education likely comes from a cultural shift around the importance of a college degree. From 2020 to 2021, 8% fewer Americans strongly believed a bachelor’s degree would help them get a high-paying job. The drop for advanced degrees was even steeper, with 13% fewer Americans strongly believing an advanced degree would help them in the workforce.

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#19. Mental and emotional health apps

- 2021: 72% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 82% of employees find it valuable

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, anxiety and other mental health issues have been on the rise. Young people, essential workers, caregivers, and minorities especially say they are burnt out. Although some employees may seek therapy or medication, mental and emotional health apps can help others alleviate the added pressure they find themselves under. The drop in value over the last year could be attributed to mental health apps’ ambiguity in terms of patient privacy and overall effectiveness over traditional therapy.

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#18. Nutrition, healthy eating, and/or weight management programs

- 2021: 73% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 76% of employees find it valuable

Programs that help employees improve their nutrition and avoid unhealthy weights can be a benefit for them and their employers. A Johns Hopkins School of Public Health report noted that poor diet can lead to such health problems as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, plus poorer productivity and more time away from work. Nutrition and other programs are most successful if a company creates a supportive environment for them at work.

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#17. Stress management programs to build resilience

- 2021: 73% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 85% of employees find it valuable

Managing stress is more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, which has sapped people’s resilience. It is particularly key for women, because conditions that are associated with stress, including depression and anxiety, are more common for them, according to the National Institutes of Health. Stress is one of the top reasons for missed days of work. According to the study, "the data may be under-represented as respondents may not have been considering the availability through their carriers or providers directly," which may contribute to the 12% drop from 2020 to 2021.

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#15. Physical therapy/musculoskeletal programs

- 2021: 75% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: Did not rank

A third of adults in the United States have musculoskeletal pain, the second leading cause for missed days at work, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Low back pain accounted for $96 billion a year in health care costs. Now some physical therapy is being offered virtually, which is especially attractive for patients worried about exposure to COVID-19.

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#16. Well-being support groups

- 2021: 75% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 67% of employees find it valuable

Support groups can help you stick to exercise programs or healthy eating, quit habits such as cigarette smoking, or talk about the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual meetings, even if meeting for coffee online, may be helpful during the pandemic as we struggle with a new set of challenges, from caring for children while working at home to worrying about when it will be safe to return to the office. Well-being support groups saw a large jump from 2020 to 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic continued, dragging out instability in daily life.

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#14. Fitness reimbursement programs

- 2021: 76% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 77% of employees find it valuable

Exercise is more popular than ever, with one report showing that a quarter of professionals are working out more than when the pandemic began in 2020. Working from home has revived the lunchtime exercise break and with stress soaring, yoga practices, barre routines, and the like are in demand. Employees are looking for reimbursement and other fitness commitments in the workplace.

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#13. Telehealth

- 2021: 77% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 64% of employees find it valuable

Telehealth exploded during the coronavirus pandemic, and was at times the only way patients were able to see their doctors. A survey by the American Medical Association found that physician visits via video jumped to 70% in 2020 from 14% in 2018. The proportion of physicians who used telehealth to diagnose or treat their patients rose to 58%.

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#12. Telephonic/virtual/online visits with a mental health professional

- 2021: 77% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 75% of employees find it valuable

Virtual visits with mental health professionals also surged when the coronavirus began, and the convenience has been a plus for many families. Online sessions can be especially successful for younger patients who have grown up with technology and are comfortable on a screen. Plus the pandemic shifted the focus for some from valuing mental toughness to reducing stress, an emphasis that is now a bigger part of everyday conversations, according to a past president of the American Medical Association.

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#11. Personalized support for navigating the health system and costs

- 2021: 77% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 78% of employees find it valuable

Support for understanding health costs can help employees decipher medical bills and find the best services in-network. Some programs can assist someone who wants to dispute a bill but needs more information to be successful. Others allow employees to compare medical costs to find the best health care for their circumstances.

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#10. Personalized health management

- 2021: 78% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 70% of employees find it valuable

Workers are increasingly comfortable sharing personal health information for a personalized program. The percentage willing to disclose such information rose from 53% in 2018 to 76% in 2021. Younger employees are most at ease, with 64% of baby boomers open to the idea compared to 78% of Gen Z.

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#8. Financial/physical/mental health recommendations (tie)

- 2021: 78% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 78% of employees find it valuable

With the coronavirus pandemic leading to resignations and to more employees assessing their financial situations, more companies are offering financial well-being benefits. Those can range from financial planning or online seminars to help paying off student loans. However, as far as physical and mental health recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control notes for example that only 40% of workers who report severe depression receive treatment.

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#8. Sleep improvement program or resources (tie)

- 2021: 78% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 78% of employees find it valuable

The latest in sleep improvement programs are apps offering personalized recommendations or even the chance for an online chat with a sleep coach. Other programs provide sleep experts to help change behavior or test for sleep apnea. With sleep key to health and productivity and the science improving, interest is growing. Employers can help too, by encouraging naps during breaks or limiting the number of regular hours worked.

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#7. Mortgage assistance programs

- 2021: 79% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 70% of employees find it valuable

Buying a home is likely to be the most expensive purchase most people will make. The current market is seeing some all-time highs while homes are in short supply, and these are the most expensive cities in the United States: San Francisco; the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City; San Jose, California; and Bethesda, Maryland, according to Rocket Mortgage. Employers can help with grants for down payments; loans, some of which might be forgiven over time; or education about how to buy a home.

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#6. 1:1 financial support

- 2021: 79% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 75% of employees find it valuable

Individual advice on financial matters, from how to invest for retirement to saving in the short term, are increasingly sought after by employees. They also want support on budgeting, how to buy a home, or saving for their children’s college. The inflation rate reached 7% by the beginning of 2022, the highest rate in 39 years, which only amplifies the financial struggles facing many Americans from 2020 to 2021.

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#5. Access to low-interest short-term loans

- 2021: 80% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 82% of employees find it valuable

Short-term loans offered through employers can help workers cover financial emergencies, even in cases of poor credit, if a financial institution considers length of employment and other such factors. A range of employees took advantage of small-dollar, low-interest loans, a study in Minneapolis found, with 1 in 4 earning more than $40,000 a year.

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#4. Paid time off exchange

- 2021: 81% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 79% of employees find it valuable

A paid time off exchange can allow employees to be paid for unused vacation and other days, offering more flexibility during especially busy periods or when opportunities to travel are curtailed. The money might go into retirement or health savings accounts or toward student loans, or to charitable donations. Or the unused time might be traded for benefits to enhance vacations employees are taking, to pay for hotels or airline flights.

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#3. Onsite health centers

- 2021: 82% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 79% of employees find it valuable

Onsite health centers are convenient, particularly for preventive care like flu shots, therapy, or prescriptions. The centers can help manage chronic conditions for which employees need continuing checkups. And they can cut down on visits to emergency rooms, a costly way to access health care for non-emergencies.

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#2. Getting paid more frequently

- 2021: 84% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: 88% of employees find it valuable

Some employers are providing early access to wages. Walmart, for example, allows employees to draw on earned wages. Instant Financial lets workers take up to 50% of their pay each day; among its clients are some franchises of McDonald’s and Hardee’s. Other companies in the field include PayActiv, DailyPay, and Earnin.

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#1. Reimbursement for working remotely

- 2021: 89% of employees find it valuable
- 2020: Did not rank

A remote reimbursement program didn’t appear on the survey ranking last year, but this year it jumped to first place. A survey by the risk management company WTW found that companies expect 19% of their employees to be working at home after the pandemic, but only 1 in 10 have offered subsidies for the costs of working remotely. A business is not required to pay for costs unless those expenses would lower earnings below the federal minimum wage, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Some states however—including California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, and New York—do require reimbursement for expenses.

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