Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has released new research showing the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on employee benefit programmes.

According to Aon’s UK Benefits & Trends Survey, 86% of employers said they prioritised employee communications as a result of the pandemic. In addition, 71% of employers said they now conduct research among their employees to understand their needs, an increase of 9 percentage points on last year. However, this still shows a concerning number of employers who are not tapping into employee opinion.

Colin Barnes, director, proposition and development, Aon, said:

“The humanitarian and economic challenges of 2020 created a catalyst for long-lasting change in the workplace. The pandemic has accelerated new approaches needed for businesses to survive or thrive. Surrounded by these challenges, employees needed clarity and confidence in the messages they received from their employers. Where communication had long been a priority, last year it become even more important.

“Indeed, wellbeing has been an increasingly relevant boardroom topic as employers connected productivity and profitability to engagement, resilience and the underlying health of their workforce. It is overwhelmingly positive to see the number of employers recognising and responding to this need.”

A majority of employers (92%) indicated a focus on mental health. Since the impact of COVID-19, 87% of respondents said they are focusing on wellbeing for homeworking, 83% on general wellbeing and 68% on emotional support. Over half (56%) have targeted their wellbeing initiatives to improve employee resilience.

When it comes to physical health, 66% of employers now provide a digital GP service, either available to staff on a voluntary or flexible basis (12%), fully company funded to all staff (40%) or fully funded to some staff (14%). Less than half (48%) provided this benefit in 2020.

The number of respondents who said that value-added services such as Employee Assistance Programmes, rehabilitation support and educational content are now very important to them and a key part of their strategy has increased 14 percentage points from 31% in 2020 to 45% in 2021.

The pandemic also impacted employers’ views on their Employee Value Propositions (EVP), with 41% stating they are being re-evaluated. Additionally, 28% said they have a clear EVP, up from 23% last year, while 43% planned to develop one this year. There has also been positive movement in the number of organisations that explain their EVP to employees; two years ago, approximately one third of respondents did not communicate their EVP, but now this figure has fallen to just 14%. According to respondents, the benefits of having an EVP are increasingly clear: 87% said it has a positive impact on recruitment, 85% reported a positive impact on employee engagement and 78% said it improved retention.

Colin Barnes added:

“In the last year, organisations had to react incredibly quickly to changing situations. The pandemic made us all acutely aware of volatility and the global nature of such threats. The unfortunate reality is that future global risks may not just include more health pandemics, but also other long-tail risks such as cyber threats or natural disasters. Any one of these will test an organisation’s strategy and endurance. What is important is acting on what we’ve learned so that both employer and employee are ready and resilient to future disruption.”

To find out more about the Aon UK Benefits and Trend Survey 2021 visit here.

Download the report here.