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The View From Here: State of the Workplace Financial Benefits Study 2021

Morgan Stanley at Work conducted a first-of-its-kind study to ask how workplace experiences in the time of COVID-19 have transformed—and continue to transform—the perceptions of employees and HR execu

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The workplace is changing—whether working from home, working behind masks, or working on the front lines of a global pandemic. Expectations have changed, too—and with them, the playbook for how companies can navigate their relationships with employees using one of their strongest tools: workplace benefits.

Morgan Stanley at Work conducted a first-of-its-kind study to ask how workplace experiences in the time of COVID-19 have transformed—and continue to transform—the perceptions of employees and HR executives alike. 

Through the Looking Glass: The Employee Experience

It’s no surprise that many employees are focusing more attention on the financial benefits offered through their employers. And with this increased focus comes new priorities: Employees want more in employer-provided financial wellness benefits, and they want their employer to help them through financial hardships.

  • Over the past year, more than 9 in 10 US employees have faced financial issues in their personal life—especially personal and household budgeting, debt reduction, and emergency and short-term savings.1
  • The economic impact of COVID-19 forced nearly 3 in 5 US employees to reduce contributions to savings accounts—with Millennials more affected than their older colleagues.1
  • Over 4 in 5 employees say that their employers should be more involved in helping them through specific financial hardships. Nearly as many also admit their company needs to help employees understand how to maximize their current benefits.1
  • Employees with employer-provided benefits are giving more attention to reviewing their specific financial benefits now compared to a year ago.1

Taking a Hard Look: Employers Reflect

On the other side of the coin, employers have also experienced a fundamental shift in perception, especially when it comes to how their organization’s financial benefits stack up against the competition—and how effective they are at helping employees to reach financial goals.

  • Many HR executives admit they can't effectively help employees navigate specific financial challenges.1
  • 9 in 10 HR executives say their company needs to do a better job helping employees understand how to maximize financial benefits.1
  • More than half of HR executives say their company is improving their financial benefits package, but not enough to be competitive—and many recall times where employees requested a specific type of financial benefit support that their company does not offer.1

Seeing Eye to Eye

The data shows a clear consensus on one inescapable message: In our changing environment, employees and HR execs alike agree that employers must do more to help their teams navigate financial challenges and maximize financial benefits.

In fact, close to 9 in 10 employees say they’d feel more invested in staying at the company if it provided financial benefits that met their specific needs. Yet in their time of financial need, roughly 3 in 5 employees have either never thought to reach out to their company, weren’t clear if it is allowed, or believed the financial benefits don’t fit their specific issue.1

There’s a clear opportunity to help connect the dots and lead employees to the solutions they seek.

1 The data from the Morgan Stanley at Work State of the Workplace Financial Benefits Study comes from a survey of 1,000 U.S. employed adults and 600 HR executives. Quotas were set for both audiences to match representative distributions, including for company size, benefits status and seniority. The survey was conducted on behalf of Morgan Stanley at Work using an email invitation and an online survey between September 21st and September 28th, 2021 by Wakefield Research (

Wakefield Research is neither an employee of, nor affiliated with, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”).

The study has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information is in-part based on, derived from, or includes information generally available to the public and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC does not guarantee their accuracy or completeness.

The study includes select statements made by certain survey participants. Morgan Stanley makes no representation or warranty concerning the content of such statements and is not implying an affiliation or approval with/of any such persons or the views expressed by such persons.

© 2020 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC.

CRC 3909743 (11/2021)