Top 3 trends driving employee benefits packages

VP of National Accounts shares what HR leaders need to offer to stay competitive in the labor market

Top 3 trends driving employee benefits packages

Open enrollment season is right around the corner, and HR leaders are preparing to offer their employees new benefits and perks for 2023.

Although employers are looking to manage costs, benefits packages are more important than ever due to their role in recruitment and retention – the top priority of every HR leader during the Great Resignation. In August, another 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means roughly 81 million Americans have fled their employers since the beginning of 2021.

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic to re-evaluate their priorities in life, employees have been heading for greener pastures, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions, improved work-life balance and more opportunities to advance their career. As a result, the scales have tipped in favor of labor, with most employers having to bend over backward to attract and retain talent.

Read more: More than half of employees haven’t used mental health benefits

“Employers are being much more sensitive to what kind of changes they can make while still keeping their lights on,” says Ami Shah, vice president of national accounts at Corporate Synergies, a national insurance and employee benefits brokerage and consultancy.

Employers are trying find ways to maintain or improve employee engagement with a remote workforce. Based on what Shah has seen from her clients, the biggest trends in benefits right now are childcare and enhanced mental health services. They go hand in hand, as working parents adapt to a hybrid work schedule, in which they’re in the office a couple days a week and at home with their children for the rest of it. Shah says both benefits can also be part of a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy.

“Childcare services is more likely to be a female-based issue just because of who usually is the predominant caregiver,” Shah told HRD. “We’re also seeing more clients ask their third-party mental health provider what their employee base looks like because when you’re dealing with a mental health issue, whether it’s clinical or a lifestyle change, there’s definitely an element of wanting to connect with that therapist. And the quickest way is to feel there’s a similarity.”

For example, Shah says, a woman going through a divorce may be more interested in having a female therapist. That philosophy can also apply to age, ethnicity and any other demographic. Shah emphasizes that enhanced mental health resources go beyond having an employee assistance program (EAP).

“After three to five visits with an EAP, if a person needs ongoing care, now they’re put back in the health care system,” Shah says. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough in-network providers to support the need.”

The other major trend Shah is seeing with her clients is the push to continue telehealth services. There’s a fear amongst employers that the benefit will be perceived as an anachronism, something that reminds employees of the dark days of 2020. Thus, employers are trying to figure out how to keep the service relevant now that doctor’s doors are open again.

Read more: This is employers’ top priority heading into open enrollment

Shah suggests making the cost structure more advantageous. “Have a different co-payment for a telehealth visit versus seeing the doctor live,” she says. “That’s the biggest incentive you can offer. Plus, telehealth can see you sort of immediately. Doctors’ offices still have limitations – they don’t have enough people. Not that it was ever easy to get into a doctor’s office, but it’s harder than ever before. Make it cheaper for employees to use telehealth when they don’t necessarily have to see a doctor in person.”

Of course, access to health care (including abortions) has been a hot topic this year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, granting states the power to establish their own abortion laws. As a result, 11 states have completely banned abortion, and 33 states ban the procedure after a specified point in pregnancy, according to AbortionFinder.org.

Shah was coming off a plane when she noticed her phone blew up with calls and texts from clients reacting to the controversial ruling in June. “Self-covered clients, especially those who are strong believers in DEI, have a geographically dispersed workforce and where culturally it makes sense have absolutely made changes to their plan to cover their population,” Shah says. “Clients are concerned – they want to make sure they’re there to protect their employee base regardless of gender and location.”

Conversely, another benefit that’s been in the news all year – student loan assistance – is no longer top of mind for Shah’s clients. “As the government keeps changing what it’s going to do with student loans, it keeps going farther and farther back on clients’ list of priorities,” she says.

Before budgeting for these benefits and perks, companies need to understand their employee data, breaking down each demographic of their population through surveys and focus groups to pinpoint the needs and desires of each segment.

Read more: ‘People shouldn’t have to look to their employers to receive basic human rights’

When it comes to open enrollment, Shah compares the process to looking through a kaleidoscope because there are so many factors to consider to ensure each employee understands the information.

“Make sure you’re educating employees through multiple channels,” Shah says. “If you’re already having people come into the office, there’s great value in hosting on-site meetings. You also want to make sure there’s a concierge resource tool for employees who have more questions. There are always people who don’t understand – health care literacy continues to be a problem. For somebody who doesn’t deal with this in their day to day, how do we expect them to know it?”

“You may also need a third-party to advocate for your employees,” Shah adds. “For example, an employee may not want to ask the HR manager if a drug they need will be covered under their plan. Maybe they don’t want the HR manager to know what’s happening in their personal life.”

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