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American Workers Are Burned Out; Employers Can Help

American employers are trying to meet their workers’ mental health needs as they struggle with burnout and stress from their jobs and finances, according to a new report.

The annual “Aflac WorkForces Report” found that more than 50% of American workers experience burnout in their workplace. Additionally, 57% experience work-related stress, with heavy workloads the biggest stressor among young workers.

The survey results also showed found that employees are struggling with their mental well-being, and that employers can help by providing their staff with mental health tools and resources.

The poll also found that only half of workers (48%) had confidence that their employers cared about their well-being. This is a significant decline compared to 56% and 59% in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

In 2023, 89% of employees are experiencing mental health challenges like depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, the survey revealed. The overwhelming majority of millennials (64%) and Gen-Z (67%) face high levels of burnout in the workplace.

In contrast, most employers (78%) believe their workers are satisfied.

The biggest stressor

Aflac noted that one of the biggest causes of stress and anxiety among workers is unexpected medical expenses. Moreover, while many employees have financial resources to cover medical emergencies, the state of financial wellness among the workers remains fragile.

According to the survey, 51% of American workers have savings to pay medical bills (a 6% increase compared to 2022). However, only 50% can afford out-of-pocket expenses that exceed $1,000. The survey also indicated that 48% of employees can’t survive without a paycheck for a month. Also, 30% of workers are in a worse financial position (compared to 2022).

What you can do

Not addressing burnout can reduce the quality of life for your staff and it could have downstream implications on your workforce — including diminished job satisfaction and work-life balance among those suffering from burnout, as well as a high chance they’ll be looking for new work.

To ensure employee satisfaction and retention, employers can provide mental health tools and resources. Here are a few tips that can help with employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment.

Improving work-life balance

Work-life balance perks — You can help workers maintain a balance between work and personal life. Dedicating an equal amount between the two eliminates burnout and stress. You can do this by offering:

  • Flexible work schedules. A flexible work schedule gives employees a sense of autonomy. Instead of the traditional 9-5, you can give them the freedom to choose specific hours they wish to work or allow them to work four 10-hour days, leaving one day for personal stuff.
  • More time off. One in three (33%) employees surveyed by Aflac ranked increased time off as their first choice for addressing burnout. More time off can be in the form of additional vacation time or “mental health” days.
  • Paid sick leave. Workers who have paid sick leave can take those days off when they really need to stay home and don’t feel obligated to go to work when sick just because they need the money.

Other ways to help

Provide an EAP — Employee assistance programs include free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.

EAPs address a range of issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, such as alcohol and other substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems and psychological disorders.  

Offer creative bonuses — Offer cash bonuses for exceptional work efforts. If you can’t afford to pay your employees cash bonuses, you can consider something like morning or afternoon off, vacation vouchers, gym memberships and free lunches, to name a few.

Encourage regular breaks — Many workers fail to take their breaks because they get too wrapped up in work, or out of fear they will look bad in front of their colleagues.

Provide supplemental insurance — Supplemental benefits include accident, critical illness, hospital indemnity, disability, cancer, life, vision and dental insurance. These are designed to complement medical insurance, particularly for workers with high deductibles or out-of-pocket expenses. Premiums for many of these benefits are quite affordable.


EEOC Ramping Up Workplace Anti-Discrimination Efforts

Employers should brace for increased enforcement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after it received a budget boost and has a new board member, breaking a deadlock that’s been going on for nearly a year.

Here’s the latest EEOC news that’s pointing to more robust enforcement by the agency:

  • In the federal government’s fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 143 lawsuits were filed against employers for alleged discrimination against employees, 52% more than in 2022. All but three of them were filed in the last eight months of the year, indicating a rapid increase that’s spilling over into the current fiscal year.
  • The EEOC’s budget for 2024 increased $26 million, or 6%, from 2023.
  • The composition of the five-member EEOC changed in July, when a new commission member was finally confirmed after a year-long wait, giving Democrat-appointed members a majority. The commission had been deadlocked up until that point with two Republican-appointed members and two Democrat appointments.

These developments indicate that the EEOC will step up its enforcement of federal employment laws. Accordingly, employers should be extra-vigilant in preventing acts or conditions in the workplace that might appear to break the law.

The EEOC is a federal agency charged with enforcing federal laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees on several grounds. These include race, sex, color, religion, age and disability, among others.

In recent years, the number of lawsuits it filed has shrunk. During some years of the Obama administration, it filed more than 300 suits annually. That number fell to 97 in 2020 and was 124 in 2021.

An EEOC investigation can have several effects on an employer:

  • Time that would have been spent running the business must be dedicated to responding to the charges. Work activities are disrupted as the EEOC requests documents and interviews staff members.
  • Employee morale can tumble when staff find out the government is investigating alleged discriminatory practices.
  • It can tie up the employer for a very long time. The EEOC says most investigations take 10 months or so, but experts say that is an underestimate.

How to prevent an EEOC investigation

The best thing an employer can do is to avoid giving workers any reason to believe they’ve been victims of discrimination. You can do this by:

  • Establishing a strong and clear written anti-discrimination policy. It should expressly state that discrimination against any of the protected classes of employees is illegal and intolerable. You should include it in your employee handbook and communicate it often to workers. A good policy will include easy to understand examples of prohibited conduct.
  • Establishing an anti-retaliation policy. It should make clear that employees who complain of illegal discrimination against themselves or colleagues will not be retaliated against. EEOC statistics showed that most of the complaints it received in 2020 were for retaliation.
  • Training managers and other employees on compliance with applicable laws.
  • Developing and following a consistent process for addressing complaints.
  • Promptly investigating all complaints of discrimination and taking actions, if necessary.
  • Thoroughly documenting all steps in the investigation and retaining the records for future reference.
  • Using progressive discipline with violators, with the severity of the consequences increasing for each subsequent violation.


Every employer should carry employment practices liability insurance. This coverage protects the business against claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and other wrongful workplace acts.

However, there can be great differences between policies, so it’s important that you work with us to find a policy that is right for your organization.

The EEOC is clearly taking employee discrimination claims more seriously. That makes it all the more important that your organization does the same.


More Employers Offering Deductible-Free Plans

As more Americans struggle with medical costs and rising out-of-pocket expenses, more employers are starting to offer deductible-free plans, according to a new report.

Mercer’s “2023-2024 Inside Employees’ Minds” survey results jibe with other reports that some insurers’ fastest growing group health plans carry no deductibles.

Workers covered by these plans often receive more preventive care than those who are in plans with deductibles, and they often pay up to 50% less out of pocket, UnitedHealthcare’s chief operating office, Dirk McMahon, told investors recently. He added that these plans can help their employers reduce the total cost of care by an average of 11%.

Employers understand the increasing financial burden that health insurance and out-of-pocket costs are imposing on some of their employees. Medical debt is a growing problem in the U.S.

Employers are taking a number of different approaches:

  • 15% offer free employee-only coverage in at least one medical plan.
  • 18% use salary-based contributions, meaning that employees who earn less also pay less for their coverage, while their higher-wage colleagues pay more.
  • 39% offer at least one health plan with no or low deductible. These are often known as copay plans.
  • 6% make larger contributions to the health savings accounts of their lower-wage staff.

Employers have several types of health plans to choose from when designing their benefits packages. Because attracting and retaining talented staff is a high priority for many organizations, they often look for the best health plan available.

One option that appeals to many employers is the no-deductible health plan. These plans are attractive because they cover health care costs immediately, eliminating high out-of-pocket expenses for employees. But, no-deducible health plans have high premiums, which may make them difficult for some employers to afford.

No-deductible plan trade-offs

No-deductible plans may:

  • Have higher premiums to account for the more generous benefit.
  • Feature higher copays.
  • Have limited network providers,
  • Have fewer covered health services.

Depending on your benefits budget and your workforce demographics, no-deductible health plans may be your best option for staff who are high health care users. There are a few issues you should consider when mulling offering such plans. Here are the main pros and cons:


  • These plans can reduce your workers’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • The plans are well-suited for people who incur high medical expenses, like those with chronic conditions, who make frequent doctor’s visits and/or who are taking expensive prescription medications or have many prescriptions they regularly refill.
  • People who know how much they will pay upfront for care are more likely to access care when they need it, particularly for chronic conditions, and they are more likely to go to annual checkups.
  • There is less likelihood of receiving surprise medical bills.


  • These plans typically have higher monthly premiums.
  • Copay outlays can add up for high users of medical services.
  • Some plans may restrict eligible services and items, perhaps by not including certain drugs in their formularies or by offering a limited provider network.

The takeaway

While no-deductible plans will be attractive to many workers, they are not for everyone and their higher premium may dissuade many people from choosing them, even if you have a generous premium-sharing arrangement. If you agree to pay a set amount towards their insurance premium, these plans can still cost hundreds of dollars more a month for the employee.

People who do not use their health insurance much are not good candidates for these plans as well, since they may end up paying higher premiums for services they don’t use.


Chronic Conditions Driving Health Care Costs

A new report has found that the top driver of health care costs in the U.S. is chronic conditions, emphasizing the role that employers can assume in helping their employees better maintain these ailments.

Chronic diseases are a major strain on the health care system, and they are costly to treat. Worse, many people with these ailments do not manage them well and do not change their lifestyles to improve them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, six out of every 10 American adults have at least one chronic condition, with 40% having two or more.

As a result, chronic conditions play an outsized role in the cost of group health insurance. In order to contain costs and improve outcomes for their workers, employers can employ a number of different strategies, according to the report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

The CDC defines chronic disease as a condition that lasts at least a year and affects or limits daily activities or requires regular medical attention. The seven most common conditions are:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, employers can try to contain costs, and hopefully their insurance premiums, by implementing a few strategies.

Disease management

Depending on the condition, chronic disease management programs will vary and it is usually a multi-pronged approach involving the plan enrollee’s health care provider and employer programs. Disease management should include:

  • Regular screenings and checkups.
  • Structured treatment plans.
  • Education on how to manage their disease and self-care strategies. Some programs help enrollees to set goals for their health.
  • Promoting the benefits of regular exercise and a nutritious diet, and empowering enrollees to take control of their health.
  • Integrating wellness programs focused on chronic disease management and that promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Empowering enrollees to take control of their health.

Coordinated care

It’s important for people with chronic conditions to receive care that’s coordinated among different providers. This is crucial as these diseases can have multiple effects, requiring the involvement of more than one physician with different specialties.

The key is that providers have in place systems and procedures that ensure that the patient’s various physicians are sharing information with one another, and that the patient is kept in the loop. This care requires:

  • Access to care from different health care providers,
  • Coordination between primary care, acute care and long-term care,
  • Strong communications among providers, and
  • Easily understandable patient communications.

Employee engagement and education

You as an employer can also do your part by making sure employees with chronic diseases make choices that ensure access to providers that focus on coordinated care.

You can also offer wellness programs that give employees with chronic diseases access to care coordination, medication management, disease-specific education, self-monitoring tools and peer support. For example, an employee wellness program may provide employees with diabetes with glucose meters, insulin pumps, diabetes educators and online support groups.

Employee wellness programs can help employees adopt healthier behaviors and lifestyles by providing them with information, motivation, support and resources. For example, an employee wellness program may offer free or discounted gym memberships, healthy food options, wellness challenges and rewards for reaching health goals.

Take advantage of essential services

To keep their disease from worsening or to identify possible health issues that may be developing, it’s vital that plan enrollees take advantage of preventive services that the Affordable Care Act requires be offered with no out-of-pocket costs:

  • Screenings and counseling.
  • Routine immunizations.
  • Preventive services for men and women.

Even when a member does not receive preventive care and develops a chronic disease, preventive measures can ensure that the disease remains in a low-severity stage.

The takeaway

The key for employers is outreach, particularly in the run-up to and during open enrollment. You can take additional steps to ensure workers with chronic disease are engaged and that they are educated in choosing plans that may offer them the best care for their condition.

Furthermore, you can offer wellness plans that reward healthy behavior, and you can educate your workers about their health coverage and the importance of getting regular screenings and inoculations.


Open Enrollment: Help Younger Workers Understand Their Coverage

A new study’s findings that many workers have a poor understanding of their employer-sponsored health insurance benefits, presents an opportunity for businesses to extend targeted support to staff during open enrollment.

The “2023 Optavise Healthcare Literacy Survey” found that 32% of employees are not confident about understanding how their plan works, meaning that many of your staff may have trouble finding, understanding and using information and services to make health insurance decisions.

As the plan sponsor, you can step in to help them during open enrollment by providing them with tailored information and guidance.

Employees who don’t understand their coverage may choose plans that are not right for them, and because of their lack of knowledge, they are more likely to stick with the same plan and not explore other options during open enrollment.

To help your staff who may not be as up to speed on how their health plan works, your human resources team has a few options.

Focus on younger workers

The Optavise study found differences in health insurance understanding among the various generations in the workforce, with millennials and Gen Z workers having the poorest understanding of health insurance terms.

The study authors recommend a return-to-basics approach during open enrollment for these workers. That could include holding meetings for them to explain the basics of health insurance, particularly how plans with higher premiums will typically have lower deductibles and copays, while low-premium plans usually have higher deductibles and copays.

Also, if you have a multi-generational workforce or workers with chronic conditions, you’ll want to tailor your pitches depending on the employee. Your presentations should focus on multiple scenarios that explain which options are best, depending on your workers’ age, health and life circumstances.

One-on-one communications

The study found that workers don’t often turn to their employers first when they have questions or need information about health insurance or their health plans:

  • 46% said they reached out to friends and family for information.
  • 35% taught themselves about terms and processes by going online or reading other materials.
  • 27% sought out information from their company’s HR department.

Given the often-poor accuracy of information from online sources, and that their friends and family likely aren’t experts on the subject, it’s a good bet that many people are getting bad information about health insurance.

While group training and providing online tools and printed material can help your workers, one-on-one meetings seem to be the most effective in helping workers:

  • 84% reported they found one-on-one sessions very or extremely useful.
  • 68% said online resources were very or extremely helpful.
  • Only 49% found e-mail correspondence was very or extremely helpful.

You may want to urge your employees to schedule face-to-face meetings with relevant HR staff. One-on-one meetings let your employees ask specific questions. By having conversations about their current medical needs or family situation, employees can best determine the most reasonable option for them.

Focus on points of confusion

The study also asked workers what kind of information about their group health plans they wanted to know more about. The following answers provide a list of topics you may want to cover during open enrollment meetings:

  • How to avoid surprise medical bills.
  • How my deductible, copay/coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum work, and what it means for my wallet.
  • How to review an Explanation of Benefits and medical bill for errors.
  • Researching health care costs, and why it matters.
  • How to choose where to get care.
  • How to choose a plan.

The takeaway

You can play an important role in educating your workers about their health coverage.

Smart employers will tailor their benefits communications, literature and meetings to meet the varying needs of their workers. It’s good to provide materials and education through various sources like a portal and literature, meetings — and in particular one-on-one meetings, which are seen as the most effective.

A personal approach can be especially helpful to ensure that your workers choose plans from which they will benefit the most in light of their budget and needs.