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From Surviving to Thriving – 5 Trends in Structuring Employee Benefits of the Future

The seismic workplace shifts that began in early 2020 have created many “new norms” that served as accelerators to a future we were unprepared for. Now that we’ve had a few years of a global pandemic under our belts, the trends in benefits we’re seeing for 2022, confirm a future that employers must embrace or be left behind the curve.

Here are five ways we're seeing progressive companies spend their benefits dollars to retain and attract a healthy workforce.

1. Financial Planning: Group health insurance and retirement savings accounts are not enough

Traditionally, the workplace is where employees seek and expect support in protecting against rising medical costs and saving for retirement. While healthcare and retirement savings are two important pieces of an employee’s financial wellbeing puzzle, it’s not the whole picture.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 62% of employers said they feel responsible for employee financial security, beyond health and retirement benefits.1 While the definition of financial support varies among employers, there are three key elements that should be offered:

  • Awareness: Most people don’t know where to start. Data that employers have readily available— age, wage and current retirement savings can give a financial professional enough information to provide an overall financial health assessment.
  • Action: Give people the tools to leverage their future. Goal setting, account management, and scenario illustrations all help employees gain confidence to make better choices for their financial well-being.
  • Access: Many workplaces are now offering financial coaching through a credentialed financial expert on demand.

 A few years ago, financial planning as a workplace benefit seemed beyond the scope of what employers should do. The pandemic changed that by spotlighting a need that we didn’t see but was there all along.

2. Benefits Without Borders: How a hybrid, work from anywhere strategy changed benefit management for companies

The work environment of the future will blend the old with the new. How much time we must collaborate in an office setting versus how much more efficient and work-life balance we gain will be debated—and evolve—for years to come. What is obvious is the expansion of the workplace to a hybrid approach has altered the needs of employees and the benefits they receive.

At the start of the pandemic, many HR professionals were unprepared to manage a partially or fully remote workforce. Gone were the days when an employee might be able to walk by the office and drop off an enrollment form or stop by with a question. A strong scalable HRIS system suddenly became a norm in order to professionally manage benefit programs. Responding to questions and conducting open enrollment meetings looked a lot different, although one positive aspect was that we discovered employees actually paid more attention and dedicated more time to their decision making. As new tools were introduced, more engagement followed.

Many workers took advantage of this new-found flexibility and decided to move to other parts of the globe, places where the traditional HMO coverage only provided emergency services. Engaging with and being supported by a flexible provider, willing and able to adapt to the changing nature and geographic of the workforce became paramount.

3. Personalization: A customized benefits program for each person

Providing healthcare and retirement benefits to employees is expensive and expected. The traditional definition of “employee benefits” is not enough. Employees want a well-rounded personalized benefits package that helps them achieve their goals. “Lifestyle Benefits” fill the gaps of what might be missing, create a more personal connection to the organization and increase interest and engagement.

Personalized benefits are not the perks we’ve seen before—coffee on tap, ping pong in the foyer, or casual, half-day Fridays. Instead, personalized strategies allow each employee to thoughtfully identify what they need most. It could be debt management, student loan repayments, tuition reimbursement, a diet and lifestyle coach or additional mental health support beyond the group health plan. The point is that these benefits need to be as broad and diverse as the organization’s workforce.

Leveraging personalization strategies to enhance traditional benefits is gaining momentum because there isn’t a one-size fits all solution available and agile enough to solve the needs of each and every individual in an organization.

4. Digital Meets Personal: Personal relationships still rule the day; smart tech makes it better

Will advancements in technology eclipse the need for relationship-based service providers? We’ve heard for many years that relationship-focused, service-oriented providers would soon be extinct. The isolation of the pandemic made the consumer want both. The relationship, that connection to a person and a community, is a touchstone in today’s troubled times. While technology has been a disruptor, it did so in the form of delivering new opportunities. Instead of the consumer having to choose between the person or the cool technology, integrated technology allows the consumer to choose the person and the technology.

We have seen the expansion of technology bring more innovation to employer benefit programs, which has not jeopardized the personal relationship, but actually improved it. There may not be a better example of the connection between personal relationships and technology than the explosion of telehealth.

In its July 9, 2021 article, McKinsey & Company states telehealth has increased 38-fold from their pre-COVID levels and up to 17% of outpatient and office visits are now digital, with both of those trends holding steady since July 2020.2 Of course, COVID regulations had a major impact on our ability and willingness to meet remotely for healthcare, but it cannot be ignored that technology has fostered remote care due to enhancements to video chat apps, broad access to smartphones, and the efficiency of secure, digital patient records for physicians to access in real-time.

While there are still many questions left to answer, the long-term potential of telehealth cleared an important regulatory hurdle as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expanded and made permanent reimbursable certain telehealth codes in the 2021 physician fee schedule. With regulations easing and access increasing, the digital transformation of healthcare may provide people more choice in how they receive care, who provides it, and when.

5. Make it Easy: Don’t overcomplicate the business of benefits for people

Do employees fully understand and recognize the value of their benefits package? Are employers and their HR Teams able to answer all of their questions and needs while juggling an already full plate of day-to-day responsibilities? Benefits selection and management needs to be demystified and simplified. It needs to be easier for people and organizations.

A single benefits strategy successfully blends needs with budget and allows employers to rethink their benefits packages to meet the needs of today’s diverse workforce.  

Not everyone is a benefits expert…and that’s ok. Keep it simple and clear so employees understand their options. With the right guidance, employees will become more confident in their choices.

Staples got it right. There is an “EASY” button. A benefits strategy that combines financial planning with flexibility, personalization, and choices of a combined digital and human approach creates easy access, easy decisions, and easy engagement for everyone.

I hope you found these 5 trends helpful! As always, please contact us to learn more. 

1 "Employers Feel More Responsible for Employees’ Financial Wellness" by Stephen Miller, CEBS. Oct. 1, 2020. SHRM
2 "Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?", Jul. 9, 2021. McKinsey & Company

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