More employers promote health through benefits

Employers are increasingly offering benefits that promote health and wellness in 2012, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, which was released Monday at its 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition in Atlanta.

In fact, 45 percent of respondents now offer health and lifestyle coaching, an increase from 33 percent in 2008. Another 35 percent of respondents provide rewards or bonuses for completing a health and wellness program, marking a jump from 23 percent in 2008.  

“Employers recognize that providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health can increase morale, confidence and productivity,” says Mark J. Schmit, vice president of research at SHRM. “Organizations continue to look for ways to manage costs as the economy slowly improves. Benefits that encourage healthier behavior are a cost-effective way to keep up employee morale while healthier employees also help decrease health care costs to employers and employees.”

Although most employee benefits stabilized in 2012, 73 percent of respondents say the sluggish economy negatively affected employee benefit offerings with 11 percent to a large extent and 62 percent to some extent. This number is similar to last year when 77 percent of respondents cited the economy as a negative influence.

The survey also finds that 92 percent of respondents offer defined contribution retirement-savings plans while 21 percent of respondents provide defined benefit pension plans.

“By shifting primary responsibility in controlling certain health care and financial benefits, employers are recognizing a shift in workplace culture,” Schmit says. “The new plans allow employees to have more control over how they save for retirement and manage their health while reducing costs for employers. These plans are also more flexible and, thus, more attractive to employees who will likely not spend an entire career with one organization.”

Respondents are spending an average of 19 percent of an employee’s annual salary on voluntary benefits, 18 percent on mandatory benefits and 10 percent on pay for time employees did not work. Among the most common benefits this year are paid holidays at 97 percent, prescription drug program coverage at 97 percent, dental insurance at 96 percent, defined contribution retirement savings at 92 percent and mail-order prescription programs at 91 percent. Fifty-one percent of respondents offer paid time off plan, traditional vacation time, sick leave and personal days, an increase from 42 percent in 2009.

Of the respondents, 35 percent provide health care coverage to same-sex domestic partners while 32 percent offer it to opposite-sex domestic partners. Another 15 percent of respondents offer domestic partner benefits other than health care coverage for opposite-sex and same-sex partners.   

More employers are offering discounts for employees living healthier lifestyles as health care premium discounts for undergoing annual health risk assessments jumped from 11 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012. Discounts for abstaining from tobacco products grew to 20 percent in 2012 from 8 percent in 2008.

Six percent of respondents provide pet health insurance while 5 percent of respondents allow pets at work, and 1 percent of respondents pay for pet care expenses while an employee is traveling for business, and 1 percent allow for a day to bring in pets to work.

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