A recent study indicates that securing financial, physical and emotional health continue to be most important to employees – more than achieving career goals and advancement. This may not be surprising, given the fact we’ve all spent 2+ years enduring the COVID pandemic, ongoing market volatility and inflation (not to mention political and social unrest and the Russia-Ukraine war). However, Mercer’s 2022 Inside Employees’ Minds report reveals that worker top concerns have shifted fairly dramatically over this relatively short period of time.
2021-2022: Tracking the Biggest Worries
The top three concerns that drew the largest share of responses in the 2022 study were:
Covering monthly expenses - 11.1% (by comparison, this was ranked #9 in 2021).
Being able to retire - 9.1% (by comparison, this was ranked #5 in 2021).
Workload and life balance - 8.6% (by comparison, this was ranked #2 in 2021).
The survey reports that three out of four employees (75%) say the high inflation and market volatility this year has significantly increased their financial stress.
By comparison, the top three employee concerns in 2021 were:
Physical health and fitness - 10.3%.
Workload and life balance - 8.6%.
Mental/emotional health - 8.2%.
The Mercer report notes that with better health and safety measures at work and a lesser threat posed by COVID, employees are less concerned about physical health this year than last -- though it still claims the top spot for men.
Workers Making Changes to Address Concerns
67% of workers earning $60,000 or less have reduced their spending as have 59% of employees earning more than that, the study shows. In addition:
29% of those earning $60,000 or less have reduced their savings, compared to 31% of the higher-earning group.
29% those earning $60,000 or less report having taken on additional work, compared to 19% of the higher-earning group.
A Deeper Dive on Retirement Concerns
Inflation and ongoing market volatility are likely fueling employee concerns about being able to retire. To help ease those concerns, the survey found that employees are looking for increased matching employer contributions into their retirement plan. In addition, employees under age 45 are interested in matching employer contributions into the plan based on student loan debt repayments*. That age group also cited starting or increasing employer match contributions into health savings accounts (HSAs) as a top desire.
How Employers Can Help
Because needs change rapidly, the Mercer report advises employers to identify the top concerns of their employees right now, and to not solely rely on historical data to prioritize solutions that can assist their workers. That’s because results will vary across organizations, depending on demographics and what benefit offerings are already in place.
Additionally, Mercer offers these insights and recommendations:
Employers should strive to engage in active listening with workers to understand their top needs. For example, are their basic needs for financial security being met? Is employee support being prioritized, including culture, work practices and benefits?
Workers priorities have shifted. Employers have an opportunity to differentiate — and maximize rewards investments — by aligning offerings to employee needs and values.
As younger employees may not have the disposable income to contribute to retirement savings, consider matching retirement contributions for expenses that are often significant portions of their income (such as student loans and healthcare costs). Helping them build savings early can reduce stress and increase retirement confidence for the future.
The #1 action employees say would support them is a reduced workload. Employers need to understand what’s creating unsustainable workloads and take positive actions. Expanding support resources, optimizing the use of talent, and clearly prioritizing initiatives will all make a difference.
When it comes to work-life balance, the survey found that more and more employees are rejecting the idea that people must sacrifice their personal lives to achieve career ambitions. Much of this sentiment is about setting boundaries between work and life, and employers should support this. Respecting people’s personal time will help drive increased commitment to the organization.
* This is proposed and may be approved in some manner as part of the current SECURE Act 2.0 legislation (tentatively targeted for finalization by the end of 2022). At the time this article was published, it had not yet been approved by Congress.
Pensionmark Financial Group, LLC (“Pensionmark”) is an investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Pensionmark is affiliated through common ownership with Pensionmark Securities, LLC (member SIPC).