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Employee benefits have major impact on mental, financial health: RBC Insurance study

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December 5, 2023
By Todd Humber

Andrejka Massicotte, head of Group Benefits, RBC Insurance.

Providing benefits to employees is more than just table stakes for employers — it can make a significant difference in the mental and financial health of workers, according to research from RBC Insurance.

The study reveals a stark contrast in well-being between workers with access to these benefits and those without, highlighting the crucial role benefits play in an era marked by high inflation and uncertainty.

“A plan member needs to understand, and know and feel, that when something happens in their life that impacts their health or well-being, or that of a loved one, paying the cost isn’t their top concern at that time,” said Andrejka Massicotte, head of group benefits at RBC Insurance. “They have that ability, that comfort, that they can focus on what they need to do to recover.”

Most Canadians are feeling some level of financial stress or concern, which is only serving to underscore the value of benefits being offered by their employers, she said.


Survey findings

RBC Insurance’s research found that two-thirds of working Canadians (66%) that have access to employer-provided benefits rate their overall well-being as good or excellent. Contrast that to the less than half (49%) of respondents without benefits who felt the same way.

Workers with employer-provided benefits reported higher overall mental health (65%) than those without benefits (51%), and year-over-year data shows that disparity is only increasing. Interestingly, benefits were also tied with a sense of a good work-life balance. The majority (81%) of workers with benefits felt they had the right mix on that front.

The survey also looked at financial health. More than half of workers (54%) with employer-provided benefits reported their overall financial health as being good or excellent, compared to only one-third (33%) of workers without benefits. Perhaps not surprisingly, low-income households (less than $40,000) are significantly less likely to have employer-paid benefits (44%) than those in the $60,000 to $100,000 bracket (83%).

‘Intentional and robust’ communication

Before investing in any new benefits, Massicotte said its important for plan sponsors to “double down” on ensuring their workforce is aware of the benefits that are already in their existing packages.

“That’s a huge piece of it,” she said. “I think it’s pretty common understanding that some services, particularly well-being services, can be underutilized just simply because there is a lack of awareness around what’s there. Oftentimes a plan member won’t even know that they’re eligible for, what’s covered in their benefits plan until something happens where they need it.”

Employers should create an “intentional and robust” communication plan around benefits, she said.

“Probably once a year just to help your employees understand what’s available to them and how to access it,” she said. “That’s sort of a no-brainer, creating that awareness of what you already have.”

New offerings to consider

Massicotte said there have been a few emerging trends that plan sponsors might want to consider adding to the mix, including a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“These are the pieces that address needs that are maybe not as widely shared, or commonly shared, but are meaningful and impactful for certain plan members nonetheless,” she said.

One example is offering benefits around family building — such as adoption, parental, and maternity leave.

Virtual services are also important, as they’re not only convenient for workers but they also have the potential to lower costs, she said.

“An example of this is the use of something like virtual pharmacies for the delivery of maintenance drugs,” said Massicotte.

Mental health

While the RBC Insurance data showed a strong link between mental health and employer-provided benefits, there is still room to move the needle even more.

Employers will want to ensure they’re providing coverage for a wide range of practitioners and treatments, she said.

“You have to ensure there’s drug coverage available to treat a variety of conditions,” said Massicotte. “You want to make sure that there’s also disability coverage, short- and long-term disability, should a plan member need to go off on leave due to a condition.”

Layered on top of that is a strong wellness and well-being program so workers can educate themselves on how to make sustainable positive changes in their lives, she said.

Massicotte discussed drug compatibility testing, a new tool that can help people who are struggling to find the right medication.

“When it comes to mental health, sometimes it can take six to eight weeks for a drug to start to take effect, which means an individual who’s either starting a brand new drug or changing dosage or going to a different drug, it could take them up to two months before they know if they’re on the right medication,” she said. “And if they need multiple adjustments, that could potentially lead them to going on disability while they’re helping themselves to find the right treatment.”

Compatibility testing has the potential to reduce all those timelines by letting a doctor know a patient can’t metabolize a drug for genetic reasons or genetic predispositions, she said.

What employees want

RBC Insurance said that when it comes to accessing their benefits, Canadians’ preferences continue to shift towards the convenience of online services, which have become more broadly available in recent years. Among the features they desire most from an employer-provided benefits plan are:

  • access to doctors and specialists (73 per cent)
  • online pharmacies (72 per cent)
  • online prescription glasses (65 per cent)
  • online mental health and wellness programs (61 per cent)
  • services for wellness and management of chronic diseases (57 per cent).

Tailored benefits

Tailored employee benefits are also increasingly important to the majority of Canadians (89 per cent) who have access to them, according to the data. Overall, satisfaction with their plans is high, with 83 per cent of Canadians who say they are happy with their current benefits, and 87 per cent who feel they have a good understanding of what is offered to them.

The RBC Insurance Study was conducted by Ipsos between July 6 and July 10, 2023. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 working Canadians was surveyed online. Weighting was employed to balance demographics to ensure that the composition of the sample reflects the population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe.

The results are considered accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had all Canadian working adults been surveyed

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