The Changing Benefits Landscape
A look at what employees value most and some options you may not have thought about.
Did You Know?
The Student Loan Repayment Assistance Act, a bill introduced to the U.S. House and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on Jan. 3, would entitle employers to a 10 percent tax credit on any payments made to an employee’s student loan (not to exceed $500 per month, per employee).
The goal for almost every employer is to offer benefits that increase employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty, as well as to attract candidates to their company. How to do this, however, is consistently changing.
Aside from the commonly expected health plans, more “outside the box” options are creeping into the marketplace.
According to U.S. News and World Report, health care is just one aspect of the ever-evolving employee benefit offerings in 2018. The publication cites that student loans are a major topic of interest for workers, especially millennials, and as a result, a small but growing number of employers are offering or considering student loan assistance. According to a 2017 survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 4 percent of SHRM members offer this perk, and that percentage is expected to grow by the end of the year.
But how do these benefits rank in importance to employees?
Ryan Rodrigue, vice president of sales and administration at Hollis Companies, said that in his experience, local employees tend to rank benefits in the following order of importance: 1) healthcare benefits, (i.e. medical, dental, vision, life, short-term disability and long-term disability); 2) paid time off; 3) paid leave and paid vacation; 4) 401K plan, retirement plan or pension; flexible hours/work-from-home potential; and 5) loan and tuition assistance.
Rodrigue added that local employers are getting more creative with their benefits to attract and retain their employees.
“We are seeing an increase in non-traditional benefits such as loan and tuition assistance, flexible work hours, working remotely, on-site gyms, a pet-friendly work area, etc.,” he said. “A lot of employers in New Orleans are following the broader trend of allowing for greater flexibility for their employees as it relates to working remotely or telecommuting.”
When it comes to employer-assisted student loan programs, there are a few different ways that employers can participate. Employers can pay money directly toward the employees’ student loans, or provide access to third parties that can offer a lower interest rate on a refinanced student loan.
The Student Loan Repayment Assistance Act, a bill introduced to the U.S. House and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on Jan. 3, would entitle employers to a 10 percent tax credit on any payments made to an employee’s student loan (not to exceed $500 per month, per employee), similar to how medical care is tax-deductible for the employer.
Kelly Daul, insurance producer with Daul Insurance, says it takes a while for benefits trends to reach New Orleans companies.
“That’s not a bad thing,” says Daul. “We can see how the trendy things play out in other parts of the country before we implement them here. For example, employers in larger cities like San Francisco or New York have been allowing their employees to dress casually and work remotely for a while, and we are seeing that more and more now in our city. While working remotely might be trendy, it is really only practical for certain types of businesses, like maybe a sales position, or larger companies. Municipalities would not really lend themselves to this sort of trend.”
Gates Skene, personal risk adviser at Ross and Yerger Insurance in Metairie, says he sees more and more companies offering the ability to work remotely.
“It gives the employee the opportunity to take care of things that would otherwise cause them to miss work,” he says. “Some examples would be to be at home with sick children, wait on a repairman, travel, etc.”
One thing that is becoming broadly practiced, says Daul, are flexible work hours, such as establishing 10-hour workdays with every Friday off.
“I’ve even heard of employers that had flextime where employees can set their own hours,” he said. “For example, if the office is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., employees could work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. depending upon their personal needs and job demands.”
Daul adds that a big change he’s seen over the last several years is companies providing employees with online access to their benefits and access to health education that ties in with wellness programs.
Wellness programs are popular and have been around for several years. Programs can include group exercise, gym membership, biometric screenings, nutrition seminars and incentive programs.
“Wellness programs can be relatively inexpensive for the employer,” says Skene. “Employees can be challenged to eat better, workout, drink water and sleep.”
Programs don’t have to be costly and can provide the employer with an opportunity to get creative.
“Every employee at Ross and Yerger has the ability to take 30 minutes twice a week to invest in their physical health,” says Skene. “This is good for mental health as well as physical health. Healthy employees are more likely to be engaged at work, and an employee that feels valued and invested in will be more loyal.”
“It’s common for an employer-sponsored medical insurance to have a wellness benefit or wellness program that can be available through the insurance carrier at little to no cost to the employer and their employees,” adds Rodrigue.
Benefit Trends to Watch in 2018
1. Ensuring Loyalty in an Era of Automation
72% of Americans are worried about a future where robots and computers are capable of performing many human jobs — more than double the 33 percent of people who are enthusiastic about it.
75% of employees say that the ability to choose their benefits keeps them loyal to their employers.
2. Financial Planning
Over 50% of employees say that financial-planning programs are important for increasing loyalty to their employers. Medical + voluntary + financial wellness benefits = the new formula for engaged employees.
3. Greater Personalization
33% of employees feel their employers’ benefits adequately address their lives and personal situations
Seamless integration among carriers, brokers, third-parties and employers will be a necessary focus as the benefits ecosystem continues to expand.
5. Data Security
4 out of 5 brokers are concerned about employee data security. Cyber threats have small business owners concerned, with the most recent Small Business Index from MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showing nearly 2/3 are concerned about a cyber attack.