The Latest Trends in Employer-Sponsored Coverage
In today’s hyper-competitive labor market, finding levers to pull to get access to the best talent is at the top of every recruiter’s mind. For many of today’s job seekers, the tipping point when it comes to opportunities often comes down to insurance benefits.
While health insurance is still king among benefits — with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that health benefits were available to 71% of private industry workers — the details of each specific plan matter, as do the other elements of the benefits package.
From what percentage the employer contributes to more esoteric offerings, like pet insurance and non-insurance benefits, employers are getting creative in making their job offers stand out and, more importantly, keeping their current employees happy and more likely to stick around.
Health Plan Details
Today’s competitive labor market has increased the difficulty of recruiting employers, said SHRM knowledge advisor John Dooney. “The Great Resignation of employees is forcing companies to retain existing employees and help entice new employees,” Dooney said.
This has resulted in high turnover rates in nearly every industry and increased salary budgets to provide more significant increases at merit review time.
According to Andrew Grove, executive vice president of sales and account management for SWBC Employee Benefits Consulting Group, employers must get creative to stay competitive.
“The employee benefits environment is constantly evolving with trends of all sorts,” Grove said.
Endlessly throwing money at the problem isn’t always the best solution.
“It centers around affordability. Employers sometimes struggle to balance providing attractive benefits programs while containing costs,” Grove said.
The funding of health care and employee benefits programs is challenging.
“On the employer side, there is a multitude of methodologies to fund overall programs. Employers have options ranging from traditional fully-insured plans to many different types of self-funded plans,” Grove said.
Regarding trends addressing employee cost share, employers are getting creative to either maintain and/or reduce the cost-share the plan participants take on.
Consumer-driven health plans have become popular and allow employees to establish tax-advantaged health savings accounts to fund health care expenses. Some employers opt to establish health reimbursement accounts, allowing an employer to purchase a plan with a higher deductible to reduce premiums but reimburse employees at a pre-established threshold to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.
According to the SHRM benchmarking report, the median percentage of premium employer pays for employee-only coverage is 80%.
Adjusting that number is one lever an employer can pull to help with talent acquisition.
“That is an excellent way to put money back in employee’s pockets, without creating a new benefit: make an existing benefit less costly,” Dooney said.
Other Benefit Options
While health care is often the highest-profile benefit, employers and recruiters are finding other attractive ways to get the attention of the best candidates and keep them signed on for the long term.
Employee wellness programs have become one of those options.
“Wellness programs can help mitigate cost increases and positively impact employees through promoting healthy behaviors,” Grove said.
According to Dooney, the total budget for well-being programs will increase about 22% in 2021.
“The stress of the pandemic also increased the employee’s use of employee assistance programs,” Dooney said.
Many employers have taken employee wellness to another level and established on-site or near-site clinics accessible to employees and their dependents.
“An on-site or near-site clinic is a great talent attraction and retention tool that enhances population health and productivity,” Grove said.
Coverage for mental health is also a prominent selling point. Mental health coverage is mandated by all Affordable Care Act-compliant plans, but that doesn’t mean navigating those systems is easy. Many companies are taking the next step and using employee assistance programs to help their workforce navigate the sometimes-arcane world of mental health coverage.
Telehealth coverage is another benefit that has emerged in a big way from the pandemic. During the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, telehealth became the standard of care for many areas. Now, as the emergency orders are falling away, many employer plans are looking at options to keep telehealth coverage front and center for their employees.
It is often not enough to offer good benefits packages. The best programs today emphasize educating the workers about what is available — an often-complicated mixture of plans, options, and forms.
“Many of today’s employee benefit plans include a degree of complexity, and making uninformed decisions can be costly,” Grove said. “A customized and targeted communications campaign tailored to a multi-generational workforce can lead to better outcomes for the employer and employee.”
Other popular options bundling into benefits programs include flex hours and commuter benefits.
Some companies are even offering a stipend to help with home office expenses or to help pay for decorating a cubicle once people return to the office, Dooney said.
A few companies are even allowing dogs at work.
Some non-financial benefits commonly offered include liberal vacation packages, in-house education, and certification offerings that could lead to more promotion opportunities.
“In addition to the traditional employee benefit programs we provide for our clients, we are constantly asked for new offerings,” Grove said. “Some of the newer, popular offerings generally offered to employees on a voluntary basis include pet insurance, student loan assistance, employee advocacy services, mental health resources, financial wellbeing services, and virtual care on either a stand-alone basis or included within their health plan.”
Grove said there are many options and no “one-size-fits-all solution,” Grove said.
“Employers should seek the advice of a qualified professional who can analyze their situation and determine which course of action is best for them,” Grove said.
While the salary is often the headline for most job offers, crafting a thoughtful, meaningful, and valuable benefits package can go a long way toward landing the best talent. Whether it is traditional standbys, such as health care or life insurance, or benefits tailored to today’s changing work environments, such as allowances to decorate an office, or pet-friendly policies, companies that look to their benefits packages as a recruiting tool will have more luck competing for workers in today’s hypercompetitive job market.
Michael Giusti, MBA, is a senior reporter and analyst for InsuranceQuotes.com.
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