While recent Bureau of Labor statistics suggest that the Great Resignation may be slowing down, U.S. employers still face an extremely competitive job market. Additionally, employees’ changing expectations for their work lives – in particular, increased demand for permanent remote/hybrid work situations – make it imperative that employers take a second look at their employee benefits programs (EBPs) and make informed decisions about their future.
The goal of an EBP review is to determine whether a company offers the right benefits to attract and retain top talent and whether the cost of offering such incentives translates to increased workforce stability and productivity. The review generally involves three phases:
Phase One: What Works and What Doesn’t
The first step is to review the utilization rate for the employee benefits and related incentives that you currently offer. Be sure to compare the rates for in-office and remote workers, as they may vary significantly. Offering discounted gym memberships as part of a wellness program, for example, might have been popular when most team members worked in the office. Now that they’ve grown used to working out at home, it may be less valued.
You’ll also want to review your employee education materials regarding available benefits. Think carefully about the outreach to both new hires and longer-term employees. Often, employees fail to make full use of the resources available to them simply because they don’t know (or have forgotten) that they exist!
Finally, don’t overlook the most important step. Talk with your employees to find out what benefits they want. While there are trends in employee benefits, every team is unique. The best experts on your team’s needs and wants are close by; reach out to them.
Phase Two: Cost/Benefit Analysis
Once you determine the value that your employees place on the current benefits, it’s time to collect information on how much it costs you to offer them today. Sadly, inflation means prices for everything are rising. This can impact both your costs as the employer and possibly the value employees place on them as well. Can you still afford to offer the same benefits? Would an alternative benefit structure, such as a self-funded program, be more cost-effective? Your employee benefits provider should be able to offer options and insights.
Also, don’t overlook resources in your community that employees may be able to access. After all, your taxes help fund these programs. Community-based programs can be a great way for companies to expand their offerings without breaking the budget. Reach out to local and state governments and non-profits in your area to learn what programs are available and what it takes to qualify for them. Then, prepare educational materials to make your team aware of these opportunities.
As you conduct your analysis, don’t overlook the benefit side of the equation. Try to attribute increases in job satisfaction and/or productivity to specific benefits and incentives programs, if possible.
Phase Three: Explore New Employee Benefits Possibilities
If your current EBP and employees’ needs and expectations don’t align, look for new options. (Of course, you can also use this opportunity to expand your program as well.) Reach out to professional associations, online industry groups, and your personal networks for inspiration. And don’t restrict yourself to the insurance industry. Unusual offerings borrowed from an “outside” source might be just the thing to set your organization apart from the competition. Again, your EBP provider/administrator may be able to offer guidance as well.
To get you started, here are a few employee benefits currently trending:
Paid Family/Parental Leave and Child/Elder Care
Maternity leave and childcare assistance are fairly common benefits. Today, however, candidates want employers to step up their game. Younger employees wanting to start a family without compromising their career progression look for longer periods of leave as well as paid leave. Gender equity (i.e. paternity leave) is also high on the list.
Furthermore, as medical advances continue to extend life expectancies, many employees find themselves caring for elderly family members either in the home or in assisted living facilities. If fact, it’s not uncommon for people to be caring for children and parents simultaneously. Providing equitable elder care benefits – or at least caregiver respite options – can help keep experienced employees on the job.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs
For the last several years, many companies have talked a lot about DEI initiatives. Unfortunately, many of these programs seem to be mostly “talk.” Employees continue to run into glass ceilings as they attempt to advance to more senior leadership positions. Additionally, many complain that DEI programs are what traditionally-privileged employers think employees want rather than truly reflecting the needs, concerns, and cultures of historically-underrepresented groups.
Employees also want companies to look beyond the traditional ethnic and gender groups for DEI outreach. Individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ also want to feel welcomed in the workplace. So do those who are neuro-diverse or dealing with mental illnesses or physical disabilities.
Mental Health Parity
One positive to come out of the global pandemic and resulting shutdowns is an increased empathy for those struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental and behavioral disorders. This has led to a national call for greater parity between physical and mental health benefits. It’s important to keep in mind that providing such benefits doesn’t just mean paying the costs. In many communities, access to appropriate mental health treatment is extremely limited.
Student Loan Repayment
Employees have been asking for this benefit for many years, obviously. As the costs of higher education continue to rise, however, those calls are growing louder. Companies that do offer some type of student loan repayment find it is a VERY popular benefit. Some older employees, who may no longer have student loans, are also asking for a similar benefit to fund their children’s educations.
Another popular benefit is financial wellness programs. Few employee benefits provide as significant and diverse returns on investment. The best programs offer not only education about personal finance management and investing, but also access to tools and expert advice as well as accountability groups.
Collecting and analyzing data about your EBP’s effectiveness takes time. Those participating in the process need to consider carefully both their input and the conclusions drawn from it. Team leaders also need time to build buy-in for any changes. So although open enrollment may not take place until autumn, now is the time to start a benefits review.