The impact of COVID-19 on the workforce has only reinforced the importance of leave and the value of income protection offered through disability insurance. Many workers are without jobs or having their hours reduced, so employees are justifiably anxious about the pandemic’s economic effect on their income and benefit protection. MetLife’s 18th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) validates these worries, revealing that in early April 2020, more than half of employees surveyed are most concerned with their financial health in the wake of the pandemic.
No one is alone in wanting more support. According to a recent MetLife disability survey fielded in April 2020, employees nationwide say they are looking to their employers for disability insurance or absence-related programs from their employer during these challenging times. Amid the pandemic, half of employees responded that disability insurance (50 percent) or family caregiver leave (47 percent) would best support them if out of work during COVID-19. Yet, approximately one-third of surveyed employees say they do not believe they have adequate coverage to feel protected through the pandemic.
Following are three key considerations about disability insurance, which is becoming more crucial than ever before.
1. Know what you have now.
It is critical to take the time now to fully understand the benefits package offered by your employer or your spouse’s or partner’s employer. Doing so will help you make informed decisions, and may illuminate programs such as mental health support or income protection that may not have seemed relevant months ago.
Many people do not realize that disability insurance can be used to help cover an employees’ expenses if they are out of work due to illness or injury. This is important to be aware of because 61 percent of employees in the disability survey said monthly expenses, such as rent/mortgage payments, utility bills or car payments, are top stressors for employees if suddenly unable to work full-time.
On top of recently passed legislation, many employers have also expanded leave programs to support employees during the pandemic. Having a firm understanding of how these programs apply to you could make a big difference in your holistic well-being (financial, physical, mental and social), particularly during times of crisis and urgency.
2. Prevention and rehabilitation matter.
Along with the financial stress imposed by COVID-19, employees are facing physical, mental and social health consequences, too. From having fewer opportunities for physical activity and social interaction to feeling anguish over the suffering or isolation of loved ones, every element of holistic well-being is impacted.
Because this is a reality for now and possibly longer, being proactive about addressing all aspects of well-being can prevent issues from escalating, as the virus is just one way people can fall ill and be unable to work.
Participating in home exercise programs, virtual social gatherings and seeking mental health support are all ways to stay healthy during these challenging times. You can also take advantage of creative programs employers are offering such as nutritional recipes and fitness challenges.
Focus on your mental wellness and find ways to help cope with the stress related to the pandemic. Many Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer mental wellness counseling and telehealth opportunities to talk to trained professionals about your concerns and how you are feeling. See what options your employer provides.
In addition, when returning from a leave of absence, employees should understand the return-to-work programs offered by their employer, which are designed to help keep them healthy after they are back on the job. These programs may offer flexible work hours, technology equipment accommodations, training opportunities, and mental and financial wellness support to address related stressors.
3. Prepare for future decision-making.
Annual open enrollment for benefits is coming up in the fall, so it is important to have a clear understanding well in advance about what is offered in your current benefits programs, any expansions to those programs and what selections best meet your specific needs.
A growing number of employees are paying attention to their benefit options for disability, leave and other opportunities to protect their financial health. The MetLife disability survey fielded in April 2020, in fact, found nearly half (48 percent) of employees say the pandemic has increased their likelihood to enroll in disability benefits and programs in the coming year.
Keep in mind that a significant number of employees also say they do not know how much disability- or leave-related benefits they should have to cope with unexpected situations. This underscores the value of taking the time to assess benefits options carefully. Employees who do not have a strong understanding may fall short on benefits when they need them most. Those who do are more likely to make informed decisions that help them achieve their long-term goals.
Taking Action Today for Tomorrow
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call on the vital importance of leave and the value of income protection offered through disability insurance. Now more than ever, employees should take the time today to prepare and plan for unexpected events tomorrow – be they related to the pandemic, a critical illness or injury, or another unanticipated situation. This includes reviewing benefits communications from employers well in advance of enrollment dates and leveraging all the resources they have to ask questions and make smart decisions before open enrollment this fall.
Importantly, you should also try to make benefits decisions through the lens of holistic well-being, selecting options and participating in activities that sustain not just their financial health, but their mental, physical and social health too. Doing so can make all the difference in improving your holistic well-being in the near- and longer term.