Faced with rising costs and continuing struggles to engage employees with their benefits, U.S. employers are redesigning their benefit strategy to better meet employee needs, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.
The survey found employers are looking to place greater emphasis on employee wellness, broader benefit packages and use of new technologies to support employee decision-making.
The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey found the primary benefit strategy challenges U.S. employers expect to face over the next three years are rising benefit costs (82%), followed by difficulties communicating benefit choices to employees (53%) and the differing wants and needs of a multi-generational workforce (50%).
Just under half (47%) cited lack of employee engagement with their benefit programs as a primary challenge.
“While controlling costs remains their top challenge, employers are increasingly focused on a broader benefit strategy that goes beyond their core health and retirement offerings,” said Jennifer DeMeo, senior director, Retirement, Willis Towers Watson. “In addition to the traditional emphasis on plan design and cost management, employers are looking for ways to better connect with employees to meet the benefit needs of a diverse workforce and to get the most value for their benefit spend.”
According to the survey, employers are focusing across a broad range of benefits — starting with wellness. When asked about their highest priorities, 80% of respondents cited incorporating employee wellness into their benefit programs.
That includes physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing programs.
- (64%) cited aligning benefit provisions with employee wants and needs
- followed by enhancing work policies (61%)
- and incorporating inclusion and diversity into benefit programs (56%).
Importantly, 70% of employers plan to focus on enhancing corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and aligning them with their benefit strategy over the next three years, nearly double the percentage of respondents who focused on CSR policies in the past three years.
The survey also noted some employers are changing their benefit strategy to improve their current programs’ overall effectiveness.
For example, only four in 10 respondents said their programs are effective at offering significant choice and flexibility in benefit selection, while just under half (49%) are effective at tailoring their benefit packages to support their employees’ needs.
Prioritizing employee experience
Employers are putting a greater priority in their benefit strategy on talent experience, including the continuing desire to deliver a technology-enabled benefit deal — and with good reason.
According to the survey, less than three in 10 employers (28%) said they are effective at using decision support and other digital tools to drive engagement. Not surprisingly, 84% of respondents plan to focus on the talent experience over the next three years, compared with 54% over the past three years.
Among the broader moves expected in the next three years include the use of technology to deliver benefit messages to employees (82% over next three years versus 44% over past three years) and creating a shopping experience when employees sign up for benefits (65% over next three years versus 38% over last three years).
“Most employers are giving their employees choice across their core and voluntary benefits. However, there is still much opportunity to enhance employee engagement, including widespread adoption of new decision-making technologies,” said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson.
“Employers are also moving forward by incorporating human-centered design thinking into their overarching benefit strategy,” Stone added, “thereby improving their ability to tailor their communication to various segments in the workforce.”
The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey was conducted during May and June 2019. Respondents totaled more than 4,300 companies from 88 countries, including 400 large and midsize U.S. companies.
To illustrate how a targeted benefit strategy can improve employee health and save on the bottom line, consider this example from the experts at What’s New in Benefits & Compensation.
Adding cancer screenings to wellness benefits can potentially save a firm’s health plan $1 million or more on a single patient, if the disease is caught early or prevented entirely.
That’s because, for example:
- 60% of diagnosed colorectal cancer (CRC) cases are discovered at a later stage due to under-screening.
- Employees aged 50-65 have the lowest rates for CRC screening.
The U.S. spends $7.4 billion on CRC each year and newer immunotherapies can cost more than $400,000 per year, per patient.
For employees diagnosed with CRC at any stage, a large percentage of costs are paid out by company-sponsored health plans despite more high-deductible plans being used today.
Most companies offer wellness plans, but only 20% of those programs offer CRC screenings that can identify risks early.
A CRC screening starts with a blood test. If positive, employees can be referred to a doctor for a diagnostic colonoscopy.
The procedure will determine if cancer is present and remove precancerous polyps or lesions.
Getting screenings started
Screenings can bridge the gap for employees who don’t see their provider on a regular or annual basis. Here’s how to get one started:
- Partner with a third-party administrator (TPA) that can assure HIPAA regs are followed. The TPA can also arrange for delivery of test results.
- Specifically target employees eligible (by age) in your wellness communications, citing benefits and risks.
- Offer rewards for participation, such as PTO, financial rewards, gift cards, gym memberships, etc.
- Do follow-up to make sure blood test results are delivered quickly after screenings.