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COMPANY BENEFITS: A FORGOTTEN TOOL

March 29, 2016

If you aren’t promoting your benefits, you are missing an opportunity to hire who you really want and keep the employees you really need.

In a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, it was determined that only about 25 percent of organizations use their company benefits program to help recruit employees, And less than 20 percent highlight the value of their benefits to retain their current staff. It appears there is a huge opportunity for employers here, considering close to eighty percent of employees obtained all health and disability insurance as well as retirement savings through their employer, and 79 percent said benefits are crucial for staying with a job.

As has been the trend for the last few years, half of the survey responders indicated they are having even more difficulty recruiting highly skilled employees, yet only 30 percent are leveraging their benefits program to attract these in-demand workers. Even fewer use the best parts of their benefit packages as motivation to retain highly skilled employees.

Among the organizations that do promote their benefits to recruit and retain employees, healthcare options and retirement savings remain the top two benefits touted. Right on the fringe are leave benefits as well as professional and career development opportunities.

"Considering that wage growth has been very weak in the post-recession economy, HR professionals frequently cannot use higher salaries as a draw for attracting and keeping talent," said Joseph Coombs, SHRM's senior analyst for workforce trends. "Many recruiters now advocate using a 'total rewards' approach to recruitment and retention, leveraging an employer’s benefit package as part of that strategy."

Getting the Word Out

Workplace benefits can't be used for either recruitment or retention if the value isn’t being communicated effectively. Although increasing slightly, just under a quarter of organizations had anything budgeted in 2013 for an employee communication strategy. Most companies rely strictly on enrollment materials (online or paper based), group employee-benefits meetings or one-on-one employee-benefits counseling with a plan administrator. Almost none of the organizations surveyed are using social media in their communication efforts, although close to 10 percent plan to start over the next year.

In today’s market, studies have shown that the millennial generation, those born between 1982 - 2002, rank flexible work schedules and managing their own time as the top draws of coming to work at a particular company. They want to know about this prior to making an employment decision. They will research, explore and evaluate the prospective company via social media avenues. If this benefit is offered, HR professionals should highlight this aspect of their overall benefit plans through many styles of communication as a tool to draw and keep younger, talented workers at their organizations.

"Most organizations are not using social media channels for benefits-related communications; however, that may change in the future, perhaps due to employers’ increased use of social media in other aspects of business operations, as well as workers’ increased comfort with those forms of technology," said Coombs.

Attracting Talent while Controlling Costs

One of the biggest benefit related concerns, according to the survey findings, is controlling the cost while still offering a favorable package. Over 80% of responders are “very concerned” about controlling healthcare costs. In previous years, increasing the employee share of the total costs of health care and providing lower-cost generic prescription drugs were the most common steps taken.

The top three activities employers have implemented or are planning to implement to help in this area show a marked shift from the previous year. They include:

Providing educational initiatives related to health and wellness
Increasing employee participation in preventive health and wellness initiatives
Creating an organizational culture that promotes health and wellness

When asked in May 2013 what they expected to do for plan year 2014, 24 percent of organizations said they intended to increase the share that employees contribute to the total costs of health care, 21 percent did not plan to increase the employee share, and 55 percent were still unsure. Although hoping the above initiatives will provide some means to offset rising costs, nearly 21 percent of employers currently paying the majority or an equal portion of health care costs believe that over the next five years, their employees will eventually pay the majority.

"As health care costs continue to increase, HR professionals will have to determine modifications to their organization’s health benefit plan and whether these changes will have any impact on their organization’s overall total rewards strategy,” Coombs observed. “For instance, will trimming or eliminating health care benefits hinder an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent?"

Promoting Wellness CAN reduce overall healthcare costs as well as incent new recruits

According to the survey, nearly three-quarters of employers that offer wellness initiatives indicated they were "very effective" or "somewhat effective" in reducing the costs of healthcare. More importantly, roughly three-quarters rated their wellness initiatives as “very effective” or “somewhat effective” in improving their employees’ overall health. As our workforce ages, having a healthier group will significantly impact the bottom line.

It appears that wellness trends are on the rise. More than half of organizations (56 percent) offered wellness incentives or rewards. By having options for their workforce, an overwhelming 82 percent felt that by doing so, employees took advantage of healthier lifestyles than if they had to come up with options on their own. These employers plan on at least keeping the offerings they currently have, with many including additional wellness initiatives in their overall strategy.

"More employees are taking advantage of the wellness programs, resources or services that their employers are offering," Coombs commented. "The challenge remains in quantifying the impact of wellness programs. Organizations indicated they would be more likely to invest in wellness initiatives if they could measure the impact."

Fewer than three out of 10 organizations measure the return on investment or cost savings associated with wellness initiatives, although 71 percent overall believe that wellness initiatives are very effective in reducing healthcare costs.

The Take Away

With medical costs on the rise and many workers unprepared financially for retirement, HR professionals should consider leveraging healthcare and retirement savings and planning benefits as part of their retention strategy. Even with some uncertainty surrounding health care plans in connection with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, HR professionals should view health care benefits, if offered at their employer, as a valuable tool for keeping workers in the fold.

Give it a try and watch your talent pool overflow!

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