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A year after COVID-19’s impact began in America, the national focus is on distributing vaccines and putting an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Yet, while the pandemic’s health impact is quite apparent, other challenges may not be so obvious.

The 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report examines how American businesses have managed during this crisis, with this year’s survey honing in on how employers and employees have changed their decision-making processes in light of COVID-19. Many employers reconfigured business models and took unprecedented measures to help protect employees and customers, and the report highlights attitudes and trends related to employer benefits programs, policies and decisions.

Aside from the health impact of the coronavirus, the financial ramifications that many Americans—and American businesses—have and may face have left HR managers in a bind: They must find ways to accommodate employees’ rapidly changing needs. As a result, workers are seeking ways to better protect themselves from financial harm, and employers are stepping up to help them do so. The following are some of the report’s key findings related to large employers, or those with more than 500 employees.

Making virtual a reality

At a time of social distancing, employers have responded appropriately by enabling remote work and limiting interpersonal contact. According to the Aflac report, 47% of large employers moved to a remote or virtual office structure in response to COVID-19, and 28% of them plan to implement a long-term virtual plan.1

While not necessarily new for larger companies, the focus on virtual accessibility certainly expanded in 2020 beyond business operations into the health and insurance space. Telemedicine and virtual medicine are on an exponential rise, now being offered by 46% of large employers—nearly double from the previous year, demonstrating the uptick in employee requests for care from the comfort of their smartphone.1

The true advantages of benefits

Amid the pandemic, employees have increasingly realized that choosing the right benefits, including considering benefits to help with expenses related to an illness like COVID-19, is one of the most effective ways to help set up a financial safety net. In fact, 49% of Americans said COVID-19 was a wake-up call to invest more time researching and prioritizing their benefits selections.1 In particular, the vast majority of large employers intend to maintain, or perhaps even improve upon, their pre-pandemic insurance offerings. A reported 70% of large employers said they are extremely or very certain they’ll maintain their benefits offerings.1

Though concerns about costs remain relevant, offering a comprehensive benefits plan can help employers in more ways than one. More than one-third (36%) of employees said improving their benefits package is the one thing their employer could do to keep them in their jobs—second only to increasing their pay.1

One option for employers to help bolster benefits packages is supplemental insurance. In fact, nearly 70% (69%) of employees said they expect at least one expanded benefit such as supplemental insurance, which helps with the expenses health insurance doesn’t cover.1 This can be impactful, considering 44% said they could not pay $1,000 or more for out-of-pocket medical expenses without incurring additional debt if a serious injury or illness occurred today.1 Not only is this an attractive option for employees, but many supplemental insurance plans can be provided at little to no cost to employers.

Action is the key to success

Having encountered one of the most complex workplace environments in recent memory, employers and HR managers are surely looking forward to what this new year might bring. If one thing is clear, it’s that COVID-19 has inspired important conversations about the role of benefits in helping provide employees additional financial security. For more on how Americans have responded to the pandemic and insights to help businesses thrive amid uncertainty, visit Aflac.com/AWR.

Check out our recent A Peak at Pinnacles video interview with Jen here: 

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Jennifer Daniel is vice president of Premier Technology Relationships at Aflac, responsible for growing and managing Aflac’s strategic partnerships with the top HR benefits platforms.

1 The 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report is the 10th annual Aflac employee benefits study examining benefits trends and attitudes. Conducted by Kantar on behalf of Aflac, the study captured responses from 2,000 employees and 1,200 employers across the United States in various industries. Learn more at Aflac.com/AWR. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation for insurance.

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