Prior to COVID-19, healthcare coverage, paid time off, and retirement plans often ranked as the most desired benefits among employees. During the pandemic, these benefits — while still highly valued — have experienced distinct changes.

What employees want in healthcare benefits has taken on new meaning.

For 2020, healthcare coverage continues to be top of mind for employees. However, the demand for healthcare benefits is expanding in these areas:

  • Telehealth/virtual medical services
  • Accident insurance
  • Critical illness plans
  • Concierge services
  • Mental health benefits


In a March 2020 survey by Sykes Enterprises, nearly 60% of respondents said that “COVID-19 has increased their willingness to try telehealth in the future.”

Further, an article published in the Wall Street Journal states that before COVID-19, telemedicine providers struggled to gain consumers’ interest. With the pandemic now afoot, the telemedicine industry is scrambling to keep pace with soaring demand.

Accident Insurance and Critical Illness Plans

Per a 2020 report by LIMRA, at least half of surveyed employees rated nearly every product feature associated with accident insurance and critical illness plans as “important.” Most employees also said, “they would be willing to pay a bit extra for many of these features.”

Concierge Services

The need for concierge services — that help employees navigate the complicated healthcare system — is apparent in a survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health. The results show that the use of concierge services in large businesses is projected to rise from 39% in 2019 to 60% in 2020.

Mental Health Benefits

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented stress not only on healthcare systems and economies, but [also] on workers’ mental health,” according to a 2020 report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Employers are responding by offering, or expanding employees’ access to, mental health benefits — such as mindfulness apps, virtual workouts, and telepsychiatry.

Paid time off remains a prized employee benefit.

In a 2018 survey by LIMRA, 81% of surveyed employees rated paid time off as the most important benefit, second only to medical benefits.

With many states and localities mandating paid sick or family leave, the coronavirus pandemic forcing the federal government to give private-sector employees paid time off, and a growing number of employees facing caregiving responsibilities, the case is clear as to why paid time off resonates profoundly with most employees.

Though still in employees’ favor, retirement benefits are being tested.

In the 2018 LIMRA study, 78% of surveyed employees viewed retirement savings plan as the most important benefit, coming in third, behind medical benefits and paid time off.

Recently, however, there has been some industry reporting that 401(k) participation is taking a hit amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

To enlighten MultiBriefs readers, I asked Pat Leary, corporate vice president at LIMRA Workplace Benefits Research, for his take on 401(k) participation during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We do see an impact of the crisis on defined contribution (DC) or 401(k) participation, but many participants are also holding steady,” he said.

According to Leary, his findings reveal that among workers with access to a DC plan, 13% say they have increased their contributions, while 11% say they have decreased it. Of those who once participated but stopped, (that’s about 10% overall), more than half (56%) stopped in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

He added, “We don’t have a read on those employers who may have gone out of business, taking a DC plan with them. But we have talked to employers (with 10 or more employees) who have a DC plan in place… some have adjusted their matches (dropped or stopped), and some have noticed increases in certain in-plan behaviors on the part of participants.”


  • 10% have eliminated a match since the outbreak.
  • Of the 75% who currently match, 20% have lowered it and another 6% are considering a reduction.
  • 23% have seen more participants decreasing contributions.
  • 13% have seen more participants stopping contributions.
  • 20% have seen more participants changing investments.
  • 13% have noticed an increase in participants taking hardship withdrawals.
  • 10% percent have noticed more participants taking loans.

Which benefits are expected to stand the test of time?

“Healthcare and retirement savings plans will continue to be in high demand,” Leary said. “However, amounts contributed by both employers and employees to retirement plans may fluctuate in the wake of COVID-19.”

Further, hospital indemnity, critical illness, and major medical plans are among the benefits viewed as more important by employers during the pandemic, and as a result should stand the test of time.

“Other high-utilization benefits — such as dental and vision coverage — will also be popular with employees,” said Leary. “But these benefits are at risk in cases where employers are thinking of dropping benefits due to financial challenges stemming from COVID-19.”

In closing, Leary pointed to supplemental benefits, which he said have become “highly relevant during the pandemic. Telehealth benefits, mental health benefits, employee assistance programs, and paid family/medical leave benefits are of heightened interest, and will gain traction going forward.”