Struggling to fill open positions in industries of all kinds, employers have been getting creative in how to attract and retain qualified employees. One of the ways they are achieving this is by listening to what people want, and ultimately offering robust benefit plans that reflect that.
The pandemic shed light on how much people value flexibility – especially from their employers. It also gave people insight into where their priorities lie. Are their family connections struggling due to the number of hours spent at work? Is their mental health suffering because they have put their own well-being on the back burner for the sake of never-ending work projects?
In other words, employees of all ages are asking themselves if they are giving more to their job than they are getting in return.
In a 2022 report published by MetLife, employees shared that if their employer offers greater flexibility and a better work-life balance, they would be 1.8 times more likely to stay at their job. Employers are recognizing that this is important, so they are providing remote or hybrid work opportunities. Others have given employees more flexibility in their hours, such as four longer workdays and a three-day weekend.
“Outside of the core benefits like medical, dental, vision, life and disability insurance, employees are finding value in work perks that employers are offering and increased flexibility,” said Aundrea Hull, AVP and senior account manager at Lockton Companies.
“The work perks range from cell phone stipends to lunch provided, identity theft protection to education subsidies for employees. More so, employees are valuing the flexibility to meet the needs of their home life and work life by telecommuting or a flexible work schedule.”
Having a healthy work-life balance means carving out time to relax and re-energize. Without that, employers are at greater risk of losing qualified employees, simply because they are burnt out and experience increased physical and mental health challenges.
“Right now, time off is the No. 1 concern in every employee survey we see, followed closely by wages and then by health insurance,” said Beau Reid, senior vice president of employee benefits at Holmes Murphy & Associates. “While employees are not necessarily asking for more, they are comparing against other opportunities in the market.”
Health Care Plans
Most employees expect – and need – a health care plan that covers them, as well as their families.
Howard Shandell, general partner for Midwest Benefit Advisors, said that when it comes to open enrollment, its year-round employee engagement and communication program has been popular. This allows employers to communicate one of their largest expenses – health care coverage – more than once a year.
“We are excited about the resources, tools and technology that will empower employees to seek out the highest quality care at the lowest cost,” he said. “We work with health plans that combine concierge services for navigational support. We include tools such as ‘Kelly’s Blue Book’ for health care.
“Affordable health care does exist, and employees should be asking their employers to consider how they purchase health care. Traditionally, employers have been told that there is nothing they can do, the big insurance companies are their only option. That is not necessarily the case.”
Reid noted that employers should keep an eye on the transition from defined benefit health insurance to defined contribution. He said that through Individually Controlled Health Reimbursement Accounts (ICHRA), employers likely will not be the purchaser of health insurance for much longer.
“ICHRA enables employers to provide a stipend that meets the minimum affordability standards of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and allows the employee to go to the State Exchange with the employer’s subsidy to find coverage that meets their needs from a coverage and affordability perspective,” he explained.
“As the exchanges get more competitive, there will be a shift to this strategy. And, if there is ever a public option on the exchange, there will be a mass exodus out of employer-purchased group health insurance to the ICHRA strategy, like the mass employer exodus out of defined benefit pension plans to today’s defined contribution 401(K) plans.”
In general, employees in all industries are overwhelmed and anxious post-pandemic as inflation becomes top of mind. Because of this, both employers and employees are placing more emphasis on mental health. Whether it’s having more discussions about mental health or providing tangible resources, keeping mental health up front and center is key to helping motivate employees to be more productive while they’re on the job.
“The need for mental health resources became abundantly clear as everyone was sent home to work remotely or work with many modifications to ensure public safety,” Hull said. “Mental health resources have been a topic of many conversations with our clients to identify ways to support their employees both in the workplace and in their home life.
“As employees returned to the workplace, it was evident that mental health resources were still needed during yet another transition. Mental health can impact so many aspects of an employee’s life and health and by supporting their mental health we could expect increased productivity and better health overall.”
Guide to Benefits
When it comes to providing benefits that employees want, Shandell says simply: “Look outside the status quo of how you have purchased benefits for the past decade.”
That might involve surveying your team to determine what’s most important to them and then figuring out how to purchase or offer benefits accordingly. It might mean getting creative on how you can shift to a hybrid work environment. Or you might need to completely rehaul your benefit offerings and scratch what isn’t working.
“Fix the benefits that have been diluted through cost shifting in the last 20 years,” Reid said. “Strong health insurance, flexible time off, and competitive wages retain your best people – not pet insurance.
“We had a customer whose plan was shifting nearly 32% of the costs for office-related health services to the employees. Their dissatisfaction was very high. Through some innovative plan design modifications and proper use of communication technology, that same group is shifting only 14% to employees in those high-volume categories this year, and the plan has actually saved money. This is a win-win situation we see playing out in every boardroom we present.”
It is also important to remember that each company is different and spending time to get to know your employees is a critical part of keeping them satisfied for the long-term.
“The key to providing benefits that attract and retain employees is to know the demographics of the population, as there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Hull said. “Each generation, industry, and geographical location may value different benefits.