Want to leverage employee benefits for better recruitment and retention? Double down on wellness. That is a key finding of a recent survey by the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), which indicates more than 75% of employees have a favorable view of their employees’efforts to improve their overall well-being, which includes physical, emotional, mental, and financial well-being. And a growing body of research suggesting that benefits and perks that take a holistic approach to wellness are poised for success.
Focus on financial wellness
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many employees and their families hard, and many are saddled under the costs of crippling loans, credit card debt, and rising inflation. So, it’s no surprise that managing debt and building emergency savings are hot issues employers can help their workforce address.
Amid the competitive push to attract talent, organizations are realizing the importance of focusing on benefits that can help employees better manage personal budgets and create emergency savings, obtain help to pay down student loans and credit cards, and use health savings accounts to better manage out-of-pocket spending, an article in Pensions & Investments (P&I) notes. And helping employees build up emergency savings is tied to better employee satisfaction, says Craig Copeland, a senior research associate at EBRI.
The membership organization, which aids in the development of sound employee benefit programs and public policy, found that the median family with a working member had less than one month of liquid savings available for access in the event of an emergency and that a whopping 83% of employees reported being interested in some way in having the opportunity to save for emergencies through payroll deductions.
Zero in on winning health benefit strategies
Financial wellness is certainly top of mind, but core health insurance benefits are the foundation of most employers’ employee benefits offerings. And there’s an opportunity for enhancements and growth in a few key health benefit-related areas, EBRI notes.
Here are 5 things it says can help underscore true value and satisfaction among potential recruits and current employees:
Offer a strong network of health care providers.
Provide robust prescription drug coverage.
Keep employees’ out of pocket (OOP) costs low.
Offer low premiums.
Make the program simple to understand.
“Generally, traditional plan enrollees and High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) enrollees ranked these aspects of health care in the same order,” says Paul Fronstin, EBRI’s director of the health research and education program. There was one exception, however: For those enrolled in traditional plans, low OOP costs for doctor’s visits were generally more important, “with the low cost of premiums being less important when selecting a plan,” Fronstin adds. For those in deciding to enroll in HDHPs, low premiums factored in more than low OOP costs.
And, another note about traditional health care plans: These outperformed HDHPs in terms of enrollee satisfaction, with more 63% percent of traditional plan enrollees indicating they were extremely or very satisfied with their plans compared with just 44% of those enrolled in HDHPs, EBRI finds. The likely culprit is OOP spending on medical services and prescription drug costs, its researchers concluded.
EBRI’s research also reveals:
Telemedicine, including access to mental health services, are hot benefit offerings. Its health-care consumer engagement survey shows that satisfaction with telemedicine visits was high among the adults they polled. In addition, providing mental health benefits whether through the health insurance plan or coaching through services like Talkspace and BetterUp is currently top of mind for many employers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Making plan offerings consistent and predictable matters. Even with HDHPs, which underperformed traditional health plans in terms of enrollee satisfaction, the level of satisfaction among HDHPs increased when they were with the plans for three or more years. And, where HDHPs are offered, there’s evidence suggesting the amount of time the plan is offered matters. EBRI found that when enrolled in an HDHP for three or more years, the number of respondents saying they were extremely or very satisfied with their plans rose to 54% – an increase of 10%.
Pre-deductible coverage for medications to better manage chronic conditions is becoming more popular. Seventy-five percent of large employers offering HSA-eligible health plans recently expanded this type of coverage in response to IRS Notice 2019-45, which expands the list of preventive care benefits permitted under high deductible health plans (HDHP), says EBRI. Two-thirds of those offering pre-deductible reported adding the coverage to improve retention and 50% said they saw long-term cost savings and the ability to attract talent as key drivers.
“Value-based reimbursement promotes the delivery of evidence-based, high-quality care that encourage use—rather than creating barriers—to high-value services,” says Fronstin. This type of intervention serves as a way to help keep plans affordable and better meet employees’ financial and medical needs.
Other hot benefits and perks
There are other areas where employers can make strides, too. For instance, EBRI highlighted benefits and perks designed to:
Minimize the stresses of life that employees doubling as at-home caregivers may face.
Lower the financial burdens of remote workers who buy equipment and/or services to maximize at-home productivity.
Make it more affordable for employees to meet their educational goals.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
Addressing caregivers’ needs
EBRI also found that 60% of employee polled said balancing work with caregiving responsibilities at home is tough, and this can lead to stress. So, it’s no wonder many responded that having help with caregiving would add value to their benefit offerings.
Respect Care Givers, which provides information about caring for the elderly and people with special needs, says there are some actionable ways employers can support caregivers to attract and retain talent, improve employees’ emotional and physical well-being, and potentially lower their healthcare costs.
For instance, organizing group discussions for caregivers to connect with coworkers who may be going through similar situations and bringing in caregiving experts to offer counseling and workshops are the types of perks that may speak volumes to caregivers. Even if paid or unpaid time off is granted for them to tend to their responsibilities, offering these types of benefits sends a stronger signal that the workplace is supportive of employees in different life stages, it notes.
Reimbursing remote workers’ expenses
Remote working expense reimbursements is another area gaining attention, Forbes reports. With close to 5 million employees now working remotely, many organizations are beginning put in place reimbursement programs to ensure those employees aren’t footing the bills for things like office supplies and equipment, as well as Internet service.
For instance, at Crunchbase, employees get a $1,000 reimbursement for setting up a home office, a $100 monthly Internet stipend, and $10 a month for coffees and snacks, one of the company’s communications managers tells Fortune.
Subsidizing or covering college tuition costs
And, more employers are wooing talent with college tuition benefits, reports CNBC. In 2021, Walmart made headlines when it rolled out a program to cover college costs for its 1.4 million U.S.-based employees. This signals the company is upping its game in the subsidized higher education benefits space – since 2018, it had been providing employees with the opportunity to pay $1 per day to earn up to a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management or business from three universities, the news outlet adds.
Lorraine Stomski, Walmart’s vice president of learning and leadership, tells CNBC that offering free tuition ties into the company’s strategy concerning its growth areas. It sees this as an opportunity to help store associates enhance their careers at the organization while also building a better quality of life. And, this seems to be a philosophy many other major brands, such as Amazon, Starbucks, Chipotle, and Target, are doubling down on, too.
Shawn VanDerziel, the executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, adds that while historically college tuition benefits had generally appealed to employees working at a professional level, nowadays programs are being designed to appeal to entry-level workers who may have the same type of access to education.
A recently Bright Horizon’s EdAssist report reveals that Hispanic and Black adults are as much as 50% less likely than their white counterparts to graduate from college. A poll of 1,017 working adults showed close to 90% said learning new skills is important to career success and that 56% of those adults said educational background was key for advancing in their current jobs. Thus, today’s education-based benefits may also help with an organization’s overall diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
Focus on navigation and staying ahead of the competition curve, too
No matter the benefits, make efforts to give employees the tools they need to navigate the options that are available to them. Eighty percent of employees said they would be likely to use a complementary program providing advice on making benefit decisions, EBRI notes.
Francis says mobile applications are a good way to make navigation a snap. For instance, FIC gives participants a way to self-assess their own financial health and connect with financial advisors to help them on their planning path. This type of customizable resource at an employee’s fingertips can go a long way toward reducing their anxiety about what benefit offerings to choose.
Right now, we’re entering a phase when benefits and perks once thought of as being unconventional are becoming more of the norm, Randstad Sourceright CEO Mike Smith explains. In an interview with Fortune, he notes that with things like mental health benefits, wellness stipends, and creative policies to address the need for time off demonstrates an organization’s flexibility and willingness to adapt to the changing work environment.
“Employees expect a strengthened social contract as the result of the pandemic,” adds Lisa Greenwald, CEO of Greenwald Research, which worked in collaboration with EBRI to deliver its survey results. She notes that 70% of employees they polled said they believe their employer has a responsibility to ensure their employees’ health and financial security.
The question is how employers will step up their game to meet the expectations of such a social contract. Those that make strong investments in their benefits and perks will likely stand apart from their competition.