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    Rethinking Benefits

    When most employers think of employee benefits, they think of core medical benefits coupled with one or more other ancillary or specialty products such as dental, vision, life, disability, or accident plans. Those are certainly “top of mind” when you jot down a list of benefits employers typically offer. Today, more and more employers are being asked to enhance their program offerings by adding new forms of benefits to the overall benefit platform. Many of these new-age benefits are becoming more common in the workplace today, causing HR executives to rethink what “benefits” really mean to employers and their employees.

    In terms of most benefit programs needed by employees, medical coverage will always be the benefit which draws the most attention by employees and demands the most attention by employers—simply because of the scale of the costs associated with this benefit. However, beyond medical, other benefits have a necessary and important place in the lineup of coverages needed by employees and their families. These coverages provide a broad “safety net” for employees in terms of financial security for themselves and their families, especially when you consider plans such as life insurance or disability insurance.

    Related reading: How Your Company Can Offset the Rising Cost of Employee Benefits

    New forms of benefits have entered or are being introduced into the marketplace which have a growing value proposition for employees and their families; not on the level of the medical benefits, but important from a “competitiveness” standpoint for employers. There are several programs that are becoming more commonplace. These benefits range from financial well-being products/programs and employer-assisted student loan repayment benefits to enhanced health and wellness benefits.

    According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits Survey, nearly half (49 percent) of employers were offering some type of financial advice. These services ranged from providing online assessment and advice tools to group instruction and one-on-one advice with a financial counselor. This number compares to 36 percent from 2016. While employers should never want to meddle in their employees' personal finances, knowing that you are doing the right things to help them along the way helps the employees to know their employer cares, thus improving morale and employee loyalty.

    In a similar financial vein, a growing number of employees in the workforce today are saddled with student loan debt and are struggling to make ends meet at home while managing their debt repayment. To meet that need, the industry has responded with a number of student loan repayment products in which employers can be directly involved in helping their employees repay the student loan debt. Again, employee financial security and employer workforce stability are the beneficiaries of this form of benefit.

    Last but certainly not least, health and wellness benefit programs are becoming increasingly important to employees and employers. For employers, a healthier workforce directly impacts the performance of their medical plan—lowering claims trends and thus impacting the premiums paid by the employer and those that are ultimately charged to their employees. So the investment employers make in “wellness-related” programs, while being a long-term play, are vital to the economics of the employer-sponsored plans. For employees, employers are enriching their wellness offering with biometric screenings, nutritional counseling and assistance, team-based activity programs, tobacco cessation programs, wellness gamification programs, and lifestyle coaching programs to name a few. Each program targets a certain segment of employees and specific wellness needs. As they are more widely adopted, employers reap the benefits of a healthier employee population and the potential for cost savings on their medical benefits.

    Today and into the future, benefit programs are anything but “typical” and companies are striving to build employee loyalty while managing a strong bottom line. So when you think about employer-sponsored benefit plans, consider re-thinking your approach to benefits compared to what has been traditionally offered. When you do, you’ll find many opportunities to attract and retain highly qualified and satisfied employees along the way.

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    Linda Hummel

    Linda T. Hummel, an insurance industry veteran, joined SWBC in 2013 as CEO of the Employee Benefits Consulting Division. She is responsible for the strategic direction and oversight of the operations, sales, and marketing efforts to employee benefits clients and prospects. Hummel brings over 25 years of health benefits experience to the company. Before joining SWBC, she was President of the Employer Group Division for Humana-Texas. Hummel graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York. Hummel was named “Texas Business Woman of the Year” by the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas and most recently, she was recognized by the Austin Business Journal’s “Profiles in Power and Women of Influence Awards.”

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