Employee Benefits Trends of 2017

Employee benefits present an ongoing challenge for companies of all sizes. Employers know that an attractive benefits package can be a significant asset when it comes to recruiting and retaining top people. But costs – especially for health care – are an ever-increasing concern.

Looking ahead into 2017, US News suggested there were five benefits trends employers should watch this year:

  1. Programs that help employees understand the health care system
  2. Expanded selection of benefits
  3. Continued emphasis on wellness programs
  4. Introduction of “financial wellness” programs
  5. Technology-based solutions

What’s behind these five trends?

While curbing costs is crucial for employers, your employees want customized offerings they can actually use. Insurance giant Aflac notes that millennials in particular directly associate benefits satisfaction with job satisfaction. Almost 90% of them, actually. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said better benefits could even outweigh better pay in choosing a new job.

To keep costs down, many companies have turned to high-deductible health insurance plans. However, this can backfire. Surveys show many employees who are forced (or choose on their own) to accept high-deductible plans are unhappy, saying the plan proved to be a financial negative, not a benefit.

How can your company put these trends to work?

  1. Better-informed employees have clearer expectations, and they can take fuller advantage of their benefits. All too often, employees never hear about benefits beyond their initial onboarding. You can boost awareness and participation with ongoing communication that reminds employees about specific benefits and offers tips on how to use the programs.

Or you can take it step further, by partnering with a benefits consulting firm to provide personalized assistance for employees – answering their questions about health coverage details and, in some cases, even recommending additional or alternative benefits to address their needs.

  1. In the past, benefits were usually restricted to health insurance, possibly including dental and/or vision coverage. Today, employers have many more options. They are offering everything from specific coverages for critical care or accidents to very different options such as group legal plans or pet insurance. You don’t necessarily have to pay for these choices, merely making them available to employees demonstrates your company has their personal interests in mind.

Creating the ideal benefits menu depends on the demographics of your workforce as well as company-specific cultural considerations. If every day is “bring your dog to work” day at your firm, offering group rates on pet insurance aligns nicely.

  1. Company-sponsored wellness programs work. They reduce health care costs, increase at-work productivity, and boost job satisfaction. With all that, an increasing number of companies have become proactive about emphasizing wellness – more than half now have official wellness programs, compared to just 30% in 2012, according the Aflac survey.

However, the trend is away from offering financial incentives. Instead, think of fun ways to promote and reward participation. Hand out T-shirts that declare, “I walked 30 miles in 30 days.” Create a challenge event of some kind, with light-hearted, inexpensive prizes for the winners.

  1. Financial fitness is a new concept among employee benefits, but this also makes sense for employers that take a holistic approach to employee performance and retention. If someone is struggling to pay their bills, they cannot be “all there” at work. Offering resources on budgeting and basic money management can give people the help they need without invading their privacy, much like an EAP program.

And resources that help employees plan for a stronger financial future have even broader appeal, whether they’re trying to save for a new home or the kids’ college tuition or get a better grasp on investing.

  1. Technology is helping to reduce costs as well as improve the benefits experience for employers and employees alike. Offering telemedicine options provides cheaper, faster access to many health care needs, via phone or live chat instead of office visits.

Telecommuting is another increasingly-popular benefit made possible by technology. In 2012, 45% of employers offered this option; as of last year, that had risen to 56%. Telecommuting can save employers money, and many are saving even more by switching from funding at-home work spaces to providing a stipend to offset the cost.

Telecommuting is seen as a benefit by employees because it offers flexibility. For many single parents and two-parent households where both parents work, this isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity. While telecommuting doesn’t work for every position or type of business, looking for other ways to offer scheduling flexibility will be well-received.

You can also adopt technology that streamlines benefits enrollment by enabling individuals to compare and choose options – much like the new health care exchanges. This saves time and allows employees to make better-informed choices.

The one thing all these employee benefits trends have in common is tailoring. What you choose to offer, and how you offer it, will be most meaningful if the package reflects your company’s culture as well as your employee’s needs.