In today’s global, always-on, and ultra-competitive work environment, good employers understand that productive, highly engaged employees are their greatest assets.
That’s why many have made commitments to improving workplace performance and safety, while raising employee awareness of health and health-related risks.
In developing this workplace culture of health, employers are increasingly realizing the intrinsic connection between employees’ financial well-being and their ability to be at their best while on the job.
The financial health - physical health link
According to a newly released Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey 2015/16, less than half (45 percent) of U.S. employees indicate satisfaction with their financial situation, while one in five employees believe their current financial problems are negatively impacting their life.
Compounding the problem, many employees harbor concerns about their long-term financial outlook, with nearly half (48 percent) noting they often worry about their future financial state.
These concerns are most evident in the younger generation. Millennial employees – people born between 1980 and 2000 who make up the biggest generation in U.S. history – face unique concerns when it comes to preparing for their futures.
Millennials are increasingly losing faith in existing government assistance programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. In fact, our latest survey found that three-quarters of employees feel they will be worse off in retirement than their parents’ generation, with nearly as many believing Social Security will be less generous (71 percent) and government-provided health benefits will be worse (70 percent).
Workers with such financial worries are more stressed, less engaged at work, and less healthy than their more financially secure peers.
The financial well-being factor can take a toll on employees’ ability to be productive at work. Distracted, and therefore inefficient, employees can be detrimental to the bottom line, so it is essential that employers find ways to encourage healthy habits—for both financial and physical health.
The role of health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts
The good news is that consumers are taking a more active role in decision-making about their health than ever before.
Employees, no longer sheltered from health care costs, are being exposed to the actual costs of their health care decisions. As a result, they are becoming much more proactive about their overall health and wellbeing, taking the time to evaluate options when doctors propose expensive tests and procedures.
Better yet, the millennial generation does not equate being healthy as simply not being sick. Millennials have an avid interest in their overall physical well-being and are dedicated to an active lifestyle and eating right according to Goldman Sachs’ latest Millennial data snapshot.
Consumer-directed, or consumer-driven health plans, and more specifically health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements, are fundamentally changing the way people manage and view their health and financial planning.
As the way people view and manage their health and finances changes, the health care industry needs to adapt to keep pace. HSAs and HRAs can address financial concerns and improve outcomes across the board—driving healthier choices, and ultimately, healthier employees.
Companies have invested thousands of dollars to create programs to enhance employees’ overall well-being. Yet, the Willis Towers Watson Global Staying at Work Survey 2015/16 found that only 50 percent of employees are enrolling in such programs, and among those who do, engagement is low, with only 40 percent of participants earning an incentive.
What can employers, health plans, banks and benefits administrators do to help their employees and plan members realize the value available to them through CDH plans and wellness programs? We recommend the three following steps:
1. Focus on education.
When it comes to their finances and health, consumers want to know all of their options and understand what makes the best financial sense for them.
Being actively engaged in the financial decisions (and repercussions) of their health care choices means that they need to move past the era of simple paycheck deductions.
Consumers now grapple with questions such as: How much money will I need to cover my health care costs in retirement? What’s the best way to save money? When can (and should) I use HSA or HRA funds?
Education on the benefits of CDHPs is critical to widespread adoption and change, as current understanding among plan users is very low. In fact, the Acclaris Consumer Survey found that 92 percent of industry insiders rate consumer understanding of HSAs and HRAs as “mediocre” or “poor,” while 40 percent called out HSAs as the most difficult type of plan to understand.
That could be why nine in 10 employees view their HSA as a spending account, rather than a savings vehicle. An industry-wide education effort is key to improving these alarming statistics.
2. Prepare for long-term engagement.
Education and engagement cannot be once-a-year activities that end at the close of open enrollment season, as underscored by the fact that only half of employees participated in any well-being activity or health-related management program in the last year, according to the Willis Towers Watson study.
The good news is, those who did participate became increasingly engaged once they began exercising their benefits.
Once employees are actively engaged, employers have an opportunity to help them learn and make smarter choices.
Assigning champions for HSAs within the organization can help build awareness and excitement about the new financial tools available to employees.
The health care industry needs to start thinking more like the banking industry, because there is no smart health care decision if there isn’t a way to pay the bill. An ongoing dialogue with employees about health and the financial implications of health care decisions is essential to lasting engagement.
3. Stay transparent.
When it comes to their account-based health plans, employees – particularly those of the millennial generation – expect full transparency.
This includes ongoing communication, accurate and up-to-date information, easy-to-use technology, simple transactions, and quick reimbursement that takes days, not weeks.
In exchange for transparency, employees are becoming increasingly open to disclosing personal details about their health and financial status. As employees allow administrators and employers to take a more active role in their health journey, they can jointly create holistic, customized plans that address each employee’s specific health and financial needs.
It is understandable that employees are confused and stressed as the health care landscape and their role within it changes. They are being tasked to understand a wide variety of new options, while also taking on more of the financial burden than ever before. According to HealthView Services, “Health care will likely be your biggest expense during the golden years … A 65-year-old, healthy couple can expect to spend $266,600 over the course of their retirement on Medicare premiums alone.”
Focusing on the connection between financial health and physical well-being is absolutely critical for administrators, employers and employees.
It is time to move beyond financial incentives and start focusing on encouraging employees to live a healthier lifestyle. By better understanding employees’ health care concerns and financial challenges, employers can build the trust and transparency needed to create engaging programs that will driver healthy decisions and better outcomes – for both the employer and employees.