Employers are increasingly focused on addressing the needs of“the whole employee” within their benefits offerings, integratingemotional, financial, social and career well-being with physicalhealth, according to the 2017 Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. BenefitsStrategy & Benchmarking Survey.

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Gallagher Benefit Services Inc., AJG’s employee benefitsconsulting and brokerage unit, surveyed 4,226 employers and foundthat more are taking a holistic approach to their wellness programs, as demonstrated by theincrease in programs now covering financial well-being (34percent), volunteer opportunities (28 percent) and communityengagement (27 percent).

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And it’s not just about trying to keep workers physicallyhealthy. While reducing health care costs remains the main driverfor offering a wellness program (60 percent), employers also citeinvesting in the organization’s culture (43 percent) and improvingemployees’ work experience and satisfaction (37 percent) as othertop motivators for having such benefits.

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“This shift in thinking is one of the reasons we expect 70percent of organizations will offer wellness programs by 2019,”says William F. Ziebell, president, Gallagher Employee BenefitsConsulting and Brokerage. “When employers rebalance theirpriorities to include benefits like professional development and aworkplace culture that promotes employee engagement and totalwellbeing, they differentiate themselves in the talentmarketplace.”

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Attracting and retaining a competitive workforce is the topoperational priority for 58 percent of employers, while attracting(43 percent) and retaining (41 percent) talent rank as the secondand third most important priorities for human resourcedepartments.

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Controlling benefit costs remains the highest HR priority, at 52percent, but declined slightly in overall importance compared to2016. However, boosting workforce engagement and productivity (37percent) and creating a strong workplace culture (33 percent)increased in importance.

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To achieve these increasingly comprehensive goals, employers arestriving to achieve 360-degree integration across totalcompensation strategies and programs, according to the report. “Abig-picture perspective makes it possible to more fully addressemployee well-being and human capital talent needs, whilecontrolling costs and managing risk,” the authors write. “Asemployers gain a deeper understanding of how these elements worktogether, they can see more clearly how to align humanresource and organizational strategies to drive betterbusiness results.”

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Other key survey findings include:

  • Properly administering and managing lost time is a top pursuitfor 62 percent of employers, including Family Medical Leave Actcompliance, incidental absences, short-term disability, workers’compensation, and related implications of the Americans withDisabilities Act and the ADA Amendments Act.

  • Increases in employee contributions to the cost of premiums (48percent) and higher cost sharing through plan design changes (48percent) remain the top two health care cost-control tactics.

  • Roughly two-thirds of employers offer long-term disability andshort-term disability or salary continuation. Far fewer (44percent) have developed an absence management strategy foradministering leave for both occupational and non-occupationaldisabilities.

  • For communications, most employers shifted toward greater use ofexternal support, including 38 percent overall and 53 percent oflarge organizations that count on the help of vendors. At the otherend of the spectrum, just 3 percent overall and 11 percent of largeemployers work with consultants that specialize in thisdiscipline.

  • Sixteen percent of employers rely on health plan vendors toadminister wellness programs and 14 percent enlist the expertise ofan outsourced wellness vendor, including 24 percent of largeemployers.

  • For pharmacy benefits, 19 percent of all and 50 percent of largeemployers use a specialty pharmacy benefit manager.

  • There is a trend toward increased self-insurance of medical plans among lowermid-size (42 percent), upper mid-size (68 percent) and largeemployers (83 percent), up 8 percent to 10 percentage points from2016.

  • One-third or more of employers use quality-focused andvalue-based tactics to control medical costs, includingcost-transparency tools, telemedicine, and health care decisionsupport for employees. Some of the tactics employers expect toadopt by 2019 include cost-transparency tools (24 percent), healthcare decision support (19 percent), and reference-based pricing forhealth care services.

  • Among the 78 percent of employers that offer a retirementprogram, only 37 percent take steps to measure employee retirementreadiness, while three-quarters of employers evaluate wellnessprogram performance — employee participation is the leadingindicator at 58 percent. Few look at financial claims data (21percent), the impact on lost work time (6 percent) or lostproductivity (3 percent).

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.