54% of Workers With Access to Wellness Benefits Report Improvement in Mental Health [Survey]

Workplaces increasingly turned to perks relating to health and wellness to support employees over the last year.
Last updated May 13, 2021 | By Josh Koebert
Couple unloading meal kit

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The coronavirus pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on our collective physical and mental health. We’ve dealt with the fear of friends, family, or ourselves contracting the virus; an increasingly sedentary lifestyle due to lockdowns and other precautions; and the closures and cancellations of many of the things we typically use to destress and entertain ourselves, as well as potential income loss.

Given the ways coronavirus may forever change our health and finances, it’s no surprise this year has taken a major toll on the mental and physical health of many.

In fact, FinanceBuzz recently surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults to find out how the pandemic has impacted their well-being and found that over 50% of people report they weigh more now than they did a year ago, and more than one out of every four people (28%) say their mental health has declined in that time.

Beyond just getting a handle on how the last year impacted lives across the country, we also wanted to explore a specific trend that has helped many address their struggles: employer-sponsored health and wellness programs. These kinds of perks were already trending before the pandemic, but as the survey results show, they have greatly gained popularity as a response to COVID-19.

Read on to find out how many workers have access to these kinds of programs, which benefits are most popular, the positive impacts these benefits have on mental health, and more.

In this article

Key findings

  • Nearly two-thirds of workers (65%) have access to health and wellness benefits through work. Among those who work remotely at least part of the time, the percentage jumps to over 75%.
  • One-third of workplaces added these kinds of benefits for the first time in the last year. An additional 30% of workplaces expanded existing benefits.
  • The wellness benefits available to the highest percentage of workers with benefits programs are healthy meal subscription services (45%), mental health counseling (45%), and gym membership reimbursement (44%).
  • 88% of workers feel their employers care about their mental health. Over 50% of remote workers feel their employer cares "greatly" about their mental health, but only 35% of in-person workers feel the same.
  • 54% of workers with access to employer-sponsored wellness programs reported that their mental health has improved in the last year, while only 22% of workers without those kinds of perks said the same.

Workplaces taking action

The changes brought to daily life by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the negative impacts they produce, have been impossible to ignore. Many workplaces have recognized this and taken a proactive approach, introducing and expanding wellness programs to help their employees better cope with these difficulties.

At present, nearly two-thirds of workers surveyed (65%) indicate that their workplace offers employees some kind of health and wellness perks.

Workplaces offering remote work at least part of the time showed an even more proactive approach in this regard, with over 75% offering these kinds of programs.

While these kinds of perks were already employee wellness trends in 2020, the ongoing health crisis has shown many employers just how beneficial having such a plan can be for their workers. As a result, many workplaces implemented these kinds of programs for the first time in the past year (34%), while other companies chose to expand their existing offerings (30%).

Once again, companies with a remote work component took a more aggressive approach in adding resources for employees. Over 72% of remote workplaces added or expanded health and wellness benefits in the last year, while less than 50% of in-person workplaces did the same.

The evidence suggests that remote workplaces putting a focus on these kinds of benefits is working. When asked to describe how their mental health now compares to the start of the pandemic, more than 50% of the remote work group with greater access to health and wellness perks report that their mental health has improved. Conversely, only 29% of in-person workers said the same.

Benefits programs vary greatly from company to company, but there are a few features that appear to be common areas of focus, including options meant to help improve both the physical and mental health of employees.


The most common benefit offered is access to meal kit delivery programs. In recent years, meal kits have become a popular way for people to eat healthier by having pre-portioned ingredients conveniently delivered to their door. And as a previous FinanceBuzz survey showed, people are going to the grocery store less, so it makes sense for companies to offer this kind of benefit to their workers. And with a wide range of meal services available there is sure to be something available for all kinds of palettes.

Mental health counseling is another popular offering, and after the year we’ve all had it is no surprise to see it ranked this high. We already know the ways financial issues can affect mental health. For many of us, these kinds of concerns increased in the face of potential job and income loss due to the pandemic. Add in worries relating to a global health crisis, and having access to mental health counseling and resources has never been more important.

With expanded resources and online therapy services becoming more common than ever, it is encouraging to see workplaces across the country improve access to mental health counseling for workers.

By and large, the most common perks line up with the desires of workers, as more than 28% of those surveyed indicated the perk they would most like their job to offer is a meal kit delivery subscription. That makes it nearly twice as popular as the second-place choice of a weight loss program.

The second- and third-most common perks that companies already offer, mental health counseling and gym membership reimbursement, also rank in the five options that are most popular among workers.

Impacts on mental health

It is well established that things like eating healthier and exercising can improve mental well-being. We see that all three of the most common and popular health and wellness benefits — meal kit delivery services, mental health counseling, and gym membership reimbursement — have the potential to improve the mental health of workers, and all indications are that it is working.

When comparing the mental health of survey respondents with and without access to employer-sponsored health and wellness benefits, we found a significant difference in mental health compared to a year ago. Over 42% of people without benefits indicate that their mental health has declined over the last year, while less than 20% of those with benefits said the same.

On the encouraging side, we found that over half of people with workplace benefits (about 54%) feel that their mental health has improved over the last year, while less than 22% of people without benefits say the same. While there are sure to be other factors at play here, these stark differences point to the impact that work-sponsored wellness programs could have when it comes to the mental and emotional well-being of employees.

Knowing how impactful these programs are for many and the number of workplaces that have emphasized them in the last year, it comes as no surprise that employees recognize the positive changes these benefits make in their lives. When asked, over 88% of workers report feeling that their employer cares about their mental health, a very encouraging statistic for the American workforce.

Vaccine incentives

Of course, a big reason that mental health has become such a societal focus over the last year is the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effects it has had on our world. With vaccines finally available to combat the virus, and end is in sight, but only if enough people receive those vaccinations. For that reason, we wanted to explore how many workplaces are incentivizing their workers to get the vaccine, and how many people are taking advantage of those incentives.

We found that over 45% of workplaces are making some kind of benefit available to employees if they receive the vaccine. As a result, one in three workers say they are going to get the vaccine and utilize a work benefit for doing so. Additionally, nearly 36% of workers indicate that while their employer is not currently offering an incentive to get the vaccine, they would take advantage of such an offer it were made available.

Moving forward

With more and more people getting vaccinated, there appears to be a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Yet there is still a lot of work to do to recover from the mental and physical strain this pandemic has put on people around the world.

Thankfully, the increased focus on employer-sponsored health and wellness programs has already started the process for many and should continue to help going forward by providing a large number of America’s workers with resources designed to help.

For those looking to supplement their work wellness benefits in their personal lives, here are some ways to improve mental and physical health on your own:

  • Get on your bike and ride. Peloton bikes are a popular way to get a spin workout done at home, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is currently offering up to $60 back on eligible Peloton memberships through Dec. 21, 2021.
  • Don’t ignore financial stress. Money can be a big source of stress and ignoring it only makes things work. Being proactive when coping with financial stressors can help to alleviate anxiety.
  • Eat healthier while earning rewards. A healthy approach to diet is a great way to improve physical health, and buying healthier foods at the grocery is a key component of such a change. Beyond the physical benefits an improved diet provides, using any of the best credit cards for groceries can keep your wallet healthy as well.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults ages 18 or older, who comprise a nationally representative sample, on March 18, 2021.

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Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.