Survey respondents say it's beendifficult getting support from upper management to introduceflexible benefits, new cost management strategies and changes toretirement plans. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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The War for Talent isn't just being fought on U.S.soil. It's also heating up in Canada, and HR professionals thereare increasingly taking a more strategic approach to getting C-Suitebuy-in for additional benefits to attract workers, particularly forwellness programs and flexible benefits, according to HubInternational Ltd.'s report, “2018 Benefits Barometer Canada.”

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“Now with an increasingly young and diverse workforce, we arefinding that most Canadian companies are looking at benefits as astrategic tool for attracting and retaining talent in a highlycompetitive market,” says Mike Barone, HUB's president of employeebenefits. “Benefits are becoming the most important differentiatorfor organizations. HR leaders need advisors to help tailor benefitsto offer their employees choice and flexibility, and move theirorganizations toward greater success.”

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Related: 8 ways to make your benefits stand out from thepack

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While HR professionals cite health and wellness programs as top priorities,many say it's been challenging to convince executive management ofthe connection between wellness and enhanced productivity,according to the report. Indeed, one survey respondent says it'sbeen tough “making top management see the intangible benefits ofspending more money on employees' well-being and morale.”

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Canadian companies are most likely to implement wellnessprograms in order to boost employee morale (29 percent) andproductivity (23 percent) and reduce employee turnover (22percent). To meet these goals, HR professionals plan to continue tofocus on health and wellness in the future, with their toppriorities being to communicate an employee value proposition (39percent), focus on mental health (32 percent), align safety withwellness (26 percent) and enhance financial wellness (25percent).

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Survey respondents also say it's been difficult getting supportfrom upper management to introduce flexible benefits (24 percent),new cost management strategies (20 percent) and changes to retirement plans (20 percent).

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A main reason why many are having trouble getting C-Suite buy-infor flexible benefits is that, if not designed properly, theyfail to produce savings, according to the report. Only 12 percentof the survey respondents who have already implemented flexiblebenefits report a measurable reduction in benefit costs with thisapproach.

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“This relatively low percentage could be attributed to the factthat certain elements of flexible benefits, such as health spendingaccounts, can reduce costs but other aspects might actuallyincrease utilization, cost and administrative complexity if notdesigned optimally,” the authors write.

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Other key survey findings include:

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– Managing both sides of the benefits cost equation is worrisometo HR professionals, with 36 percent citing employee costs as aconcern and 32 percent, employer costs. Still, 60 percent believethey have done all they reasonably can to control rising medicalcosts.

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– Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents are taking 18 monthsor more to plan their benefits, which suggests that many are takinga longer-term approach to their benefits planning.

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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.