By Mike Estep
With the unemployment rate falling to an 18-year low, there is a shortage of talent, which has created a tough hiring environment for employers, and an attractive market for job searchers. In August 2018, CareerBuilder.com released its midyear job forecast, indicating 60 percent of employers are hungry to hire full-time, permanent workers throughout the remainder of 2018. To attract top talent, companies are raising starting salaries, offering signing bonuses and providing unique benefits.
As the war for talent heats up, offering a range of voluntary benefits can be a solid strategy for companies aiming to differentiate themselves as the employer of choice. Especially since employees are feeling more of a financial burden as the health insurance market has shifted more responsibility to individuals, generating higher out-of-pocket costs and copays for them. Additionally, employees are now responsible for funding their own retirement and planning for contingencies. This means employees are looking for new ways to increase their financial security, and therefore value the benefits offered by their company. Guardian research shows that 68 percent of employees say that more than half of their financial security depends on workplace benefits.
This presents an enormous opportunity for companies to help employees find that extra level of health and financial security. It also requires thoughtful planning and a broker/consultant who has the expertise to help employers enhance their employee benefits strategy.
The Right Voluntary Benefits Strategy
According to Guardian’s 4th annual Workplace Benefits Study, 88 percent of employers indicate that voluntary benefits are an important part of their overall employee benefits strategy. Given that employees are motivated to make the most of their workplace benefits, it’s important that employers offer options that serve a wide range of circumstances and needs. Voluntary products are an effective way for companies to offer employees benefits at a reduced cost, while enabling employees to get protection that meets their specific needs.
This is where a well-thought out voluntary benefits strategy comes into play. A solid strategy should focus on meeting the needs of employees who are seeking more choices with their benefit plans to meet their financial needs. To do this, we recommend that brokers consider the following:
- Know the Workforce: Use consumer insights and trends to see what employees want as part of their overall benefits plan in order to best counsel employers. This should also include the demographics of the workforce and where they are in their life stages, which could influence the type of products that will be more popular.
- Voluntary Benefits Employer Strategy: Key components of the strategy should include types of products that exist in the marketplace and how they can increase an employees’ financial security; consumer insights highlighting what products are popular and why; a benefits enrollment and communication strategy; and finally, an action plan for employers that is customizable.
- Partner with the Right Carriers: Identify carriers that are experts in the marketplace and can help provide employers with end-to-end support (enrollment, administration), as well as show the positive impact on their business growth. A recent Eastbridge Study showed that 92 percent of respondents strongly agreed that carriers are adding more features, benefits or options to their voluntary products underscoring the need to understand the changes in the marketplace as it relates to products.
Having a solid strategy in place, along with understanding the array of voluntary benefits products available will help employers meet the diverse financial protection and security needs of their clients’ workforces. Traditional non-medical insurance plans will round out an employers’ healthcare offerings and offer valuable income protection for employees who are temporarily unable to earn a salary. These products include dental, vision, life and disability insurance.
Meanwhile, supplemental health products can also complement an employers’ offering by helping offset unexpected and large expense that health insurance may not cover. This is where the market is seeing a lot of growth. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey noted that Long Term Insurance, Critical Illness, Hospital Indemnity, Pet Insurance, and Identity Theft Protection are anticipated to grow over the next few years. For example, the survey showed that hospital indemnity insurance was currently offered by 24 percent of employers and could more than double to 50 percent by 2021.
Tech Simplifying Benefits Administration
With the growth of voluntary benefits, it’s natural for companies, especially small-to-midsize, to feel overwhelmed at the idea of administering them, but it doesn’t have to be. The rise of benefits technology is simplifying the process and making it easier for employers to offer them. Human capital management technology is expanding rapidly making it accessible and affordable for small-to-midsize companies competing for talent with larger companies. For example, 57 percent of employers cited enrollment as “very efficient” when asked about the gains they’ve seen from digitization.
Additionally, our study shows 3 in 5 millennials wish it were easier to learn about and access their workplace benefits. Unlike Baby Boomers, millennials feel it is difficult to access and learn about their benefits. With employers expanding their employee benefits packages, digitizing their benefits administration will not only help simplify enrollment but create greater efficiencies and overall satisfaction among their benefits delivery.
Communications is Critical
Finally, effective benefits communications is essential, especially if employers want to retain employees. Employees need to be made aware of the product options available to them — not only for life and dental, but also for critical illness, cancer, accident, vision, and short- and long-term disability. For example, employees may not realize they can get critical illness insurance to cover the costs of visits to out-of-network specialists or non-medical expenses during recovery, such as child care or transportation to treatment centers.
We’ve found that if employees have a better understanding of the value of their employee benefits, it can lead to greater employee engagement. For example, workers who take advantage of the educational resources, tools and information made available by their employers have a more positive perception of their benefits decisions.
Employers who give workers access to information resources that allow them to make the best benefits decisions is key to getting more workers to feel more confident and satisfied about their selections.
This becomes especially critical with the rise of voluntary benefits. To attract talent, employers need to communicate the array of benefit products that candidates can choose from to entice them to join. Yet, education should not cease there. Employees need ongoing education which can be done by implementing a multi-channel process that uses a combination of approaches throughout the enrollment process. Employees need the knowledge to make the right benefits choices, which can be accomplished with decision support tools, emails, in-person presentations, videos and online enrollment channels.
Voluntary benefits are here to stay and for companies competing in today’s tight labor market, it is to their advantage to expand their employee benefits portfolio to help them stand out. The upside is that employees will appreciate it. Our latest study reveals that 62 percent of workers who feel their employee cares for their well-being wants to stay with their company 10 years or more – now, that’s the kind of retention every company would like to have.
Michael Estep is vice president, group product development and worksite leader, for Guardian. With more than 18 years of experience in the insurance industry, he is responsible for leading the product development efforts for Guardian’s group product portfolio and leading the worksite business. Guardian Life offers additional information on voluntary group benefits.
View it here: https://www.guardiananytime.com/gafd/wps/portal/fdhome/brokers/products-and-coverage