Given today’s economy, employers have continually looked for ways to control costs, and in many cases, freezing salaries have been part of cost containment strategies. While this may work from a financial standpoint, employee morale typically takes a hit when salary increases are implemented. Thus, employers must look at other nontraditional benefits to motivate the work force, says Scott Thompson, advisor at FirstPerson Benefit Advisors, an employee benefits firm in Indianapolis.
“The marketplace isn’t dictating that employers have to look at salary,” Thompson says. “Instead, they can look at more nontraditional, lower-cost ways to impact and motivate their employees, which can increase productivity and improve the health of their people.”
While health insurance is a highly valued benefit among employees, especially considering the high prices of medical treatments, Thompson is seeing more employers focus on benefits that drive productivity. Too often, employers only focus on helping employees understand their benefits during open enrollment and forget about them the rest of the year, but employees need help more than once a year. The health care system is continuously used by many employees, and sometimes they need help sorting through the complications that arise.
“The reality is that people use the benefits through the course of the year, and the health care system is very confusing,” Thompson says. “People can get turned around and spend a lot of time just trying to navigate the system, but if they have a resource they can turn to that helps take off some of that burden, it helps keep them satisfied and productive throughout the year.”
To help employees work through the health care system, employers can offer access to advocacy groups that work on behalf of the employees, Thompson says. If an employee has trouble with an out-of-network claim or needs a list of providers now accepting patients, for instance, he or she can call into the advocacy group to solve these issues or get answers. Instead of chasing down answers from various outlets, an advocacy group centralizes queries to one point of contact.
“When you have an employee trying to get through a health care situation, they could spend hours on the phone a week trying to work through billing questions and get their care coordinated,” Thompson says. “If they have someone they can turn to, though, they can handle them for them, so they’re not wasting hours where they could be productive and are not being bogged down with the stress of dealing with that condition, which can have a serious impact.”
Thompson is also seeing more employers now offer concierge services to improve the work-life balance. From dry cleaning services to lunch deliveries, these offerings make the day less stressful for employees. The cost for concierge programs is relatively low, Thompson adds, especially when existing resources, such as a receptionist or office assistant, are used to coordinate services.
With advocacy and concierge programs, employee engagement and retention increase, Thompson says. While these programs can make life easier for the work force, employees also have more time to focus on work-related tasks, which, of course, also leads to greater productivity.
“When you have engaged folks, they will be more productive on a daily basis and turn out more work,” Thompson says. “They’re going to be feeling good about themselves because they’re being productive and getting good results, which will lead to better retention within the organization, as well.”