Employee benefits & Covid-19: what can consumer trends tell us?

Coronavirus has undoubtedly had more of an effect on our daily lives than any of us could ever have anticipated. In a very short space of time, we have had to adjust to new ways of working, socialising and living while keyworkers across the world look to find a vaccine and flatten the spread. Knowing that the virus will be with us for some time to come, how is employee behaviour changing, and what can employers do to ensure their benefits packages remain valuable to their people?

Consumer spending

A great indicator as to how employees are adapting their behaviours during lockdown is in the consumer data. The way employees are now shopping and spending money can give us glimpse into what will continue to be important for them in the coming months.

Buoyed by the high volume of new home workers, sales of consumer electronics are up. In the UK, Dixons Carphone has seen its online sales increase by 72%. The US has seen sales of webcams rocket by 500% and an almost 400% increase in the sales of computer monitors and software. In France, printers and consumable sales have increased by more than 1,000% and in Korea, tablet sales have doubled.

March 2020 was the busiest month on record for UK supermarkets. A keenness by some to stockpile food has seen sales of ridges and freezers increase dramatically too. One of the world’s largest online retailers is now making a staggering $11,000 a second as the world locks down.

Consumers are gearing up for a summer at home

Even if the current UK lockdown ends in mid-May, social distancing rules are set to still be in force, meaning group gatherings will likely be banned until the end of the year. Employees won’t be spending their summers in the usual way. In preparation for this, many are equipping their homes ready for the next few months of work and socialising. Garden equipment retailers have seen a 275% increase in the sales of barbecues and a 1,292% increase in the sales of hammocks. Purchases of footballs and lawn mowers have boomed too.

As the Government advice is to only go out once a day and to only use that time to exercise at a distance, many employees will be missing the gym or recreational exercise. As a result, employees are turning to at-home exercise. John Lewis report a ‘significant uplift’ in the sales of home gym equipment and cycle shops show a 15% uplift in sales too. At-home exercise bike manufacturer Peloton has reported a huge surge in sales of more than a third.

New behaviours

So how do these big changes in consumer behaviour tell us about what employees might want and need from their benefits platform? Cycle-to-work schemes have seen an incredible uplift in demand as employees replace the gym with home exercise. Providers tell us that they’ve seen a 66% increase in new orders and a 74% increase in the value of orders.

We have seen significant increases in traffic to Employee Assistance Programmes as employees struggle with issues related to lockdown or Coronavirus. Employees are seeking more help related to domestic abuse, legal queries, elder care support and OCD issues in particular.

Anytime Health lines and Virtual GPs have seen call volumes up by 200-400% as employees stay away from hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. Giving employees access to the right support when they have questions and concerns has been a big struggle for many employers. Unsurprisingly, given the tragic human consequences of the virus, protection queries and will writing have seen an increase in interest and demand. There has been an almost 50% increase in demand for partner life insurance.

Employee wellbeing

I don’t think we have ever seen such a demand for support with employee wellbeing as we are seeing at the moment. In particular, support for mental health as employees struggle with the new restrictions being placed on their lives. Research by Opinium has found that a third of employees now working from home say they are struggling with their mental health. Two in five employees say they feel isolated and a third are worried about the long-term impact forced working from home will have on them. The latter point is shared by experts who predict that mental ill health will be the ‘next wave’ of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Another area of wellbeing that will inevitably spike downwards over the next 12 months is financial wellbeing. In the US, Americans’ sense of personal wellbeing has now fallen to 2008 recession levels. Barely one in two Americans say they are ‘thriving’.

In the UK, the HIS Markit Household Finance Index showed a fall from a record high earlier this year 47.6 to 42.5 in April due to the pandemic. UK households say they expect their financial wellbeing to decline over the next year as consumers are expected to take a £42bn hit. The CEBR calculates that the impact of the virus on UK households will mean a fall in disposable income of around £515 per household.

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Employees will need their employer to help them navigate this ‘new normal’ for some time to come and employee benefits are proving to be a successful way to do that. From offering protection, support and education to encouraging and supporting healthy lifestyle changes. The restarting of the world’s economy requires the consumer to be brave and assured. Employers can play their part on helping their staff be financially confident, as well as mentally and physically well.

Making your benefits offering relevant and clear will ensure you’re delivering the best possible employee experience throughout this pandemic and beyond. Find out more about Benefex’s OneHub technology in our report, A home for all-things reward and benefits