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Expand chart
Data: Willis Towers Watson; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

The pandemic is driving more employers to offer benefits such as extra protection against major hospital bills and even pet insurance, according to the Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey from Willis Towers Watson.

Why it matters: In the wake of a year that brought plenty of worst-case scenarios, this analysis shows employers responding to employees' desire for security.

Details: Overall, 94% of the 238 employers who responded to the survey indicated they expect voluntary benefits — benefits that are available but largely unsubsidized — to hold great importance over the next three years.

  • That's up from 36% in 2018.
  • Some of the fastest-growing voluntary benefits provide coverage against unforeseen health costs, including hospital indemnity coverage, expected to be offered by 65% of the employers by 2022 and critical illness coverage (76%.)

What they're saying: "Frankly, we sort of expected maybe people would enroll less frequently and would want more money in their checking and savings accounts just because incomes could be a bit less stable. But we’re really seeing the opposite," Lydia Jilek, who leads the voluntary benefits practice at Willis Towers Watson, told Axios.

What's next: The vast majority of employers also expect to be offering financial planning and counseling over the next two years, and nearly half of employers are also looking to expand benefits for either backup childcare (48%) and eldercare (44%).

  • 69% expect to offer access to pet insurance.

Go deeper

Aug 20, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Twin Cities employers navigate return to office amid Delta's spread

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Companies that push too hard to bring employees back to the office are at risk of losing workers. But so are companies that move to an all-remote model.

Driving the news: Some of the Twin Cities’ biggest employers — Target, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — have delayed their September return-to-office plans due to concerns about the Delta variant.

  • Meanwhile, others are still plotting to bring workers back Sept. 7.

The intrigue: How employers handle their return to office is a big factor in how they fare in the so-called “great resignation” that could result in 25% to 40% of employees nationwide quitting their jobs, according to surveys.

  • "I keep hearing from employers that they're sticking to their plan of coming back to the office. And my response to them is, 'Do you realize you're going lose about 10% to 15% of your people?' I don't know what the actual number is, but a certain segment of their employee base doesn’t want that," said Paul DeBettignies, a Twin Cities-based IT recruiter.

State of play: 51% of Minnesota companies are planning to hire for new jobs and another 48% are planning to fill vacant positions, according to a survey by human resources consulting firm Robert Half. In other words, almost every company is looking for workers.

  • "It's a situation where the employees — the talent — are holding a lot of cards that they haven't in prior years," said Kyle O’Keefe, Robert Half's senior regional director for Minnesota.

Between the lines: The 20-something workers are more likely to want to return to the office so they can be seen and advance their careers, DeBettignies said. The mid-career, established professionals are less interested in in-person work.

  • "I hear companies saying, particularly in the tech space, that we're going remote-only. They've got space but employees either don’t need to come in or they come in twice a month," he said. "I try to remind those folks they're probably going to lose 5% to 10% of their people. Because not everybody wants to work for a remote-only company."

The bottom line: Robert Half surveyed employees nationally in April and found that 34% currently working from home due to the pandemic would look for a new job if they were required to be in the office five days a week.

  • "The organizations that remain nimble and flexible will be able to retain, attract and engage their workforce," O'Keefe said. "I would hesitate on bringing some sort of one-size-fits-all approach."
Updated 2 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

6 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.