Work-life balance Now is a goodtime to consider offering more forward-thinking health and welfareplans and programs that support work-life integration.(Image:Shutterstock)

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With open enrollment right around the corner, it'sthe perfect time for businesses to conduct a checkup on theirhealth and welfare plans.

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Employees are expecting more from their benefits than everbefore. Keeping up with trends, flagging ever-changing policyupdates and going above and beyond offering traditional health andwelfare plans are a necessity in today's workforce climate. Toremain competitive, employers must regularly evaluate theirbenefits plans and what's impacting them.

Workforce climate trends & changes

Leaning into big data, organizations are using analytics totarget and personalize preferences and benefits. Going beyonddemographics, they are identifying employee lifestyle patterns andtailoring benefits, for example, to suit their personal preferencesand needs.

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Related: 5 technology and data trends affecting employeebenefits

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Companies are also embracing financial wellness, which today's workers areincreasingly seeking, by investing in new products and servicescentered around education, counseling and loans. Beyond finance,wellness programs related to health—such as step-count challenges,healthy eating campaigns and mindfulness series—are top of mind.Now is a good time to consider offering more forward-thinkinghealth and welfare plans and programs that support work-lifeintegration.

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In addition to evaluating health and welfare plans, it'simportant to keep track of new benefits guidelines. The newHealth Reimbursement Account (HRA)guidelines, which will go into effect on January 1, 2020, willexpand employer options, especially for small businesses lookingfor alternatives to group health insurance. Now, employees canreceive two additional types of HRAs: individual coverage andexcepted benefit HRAs. Individual coverage HRAs permit eligibleemployees to purchase individual market coverage in lieu oftraditional group health plan offering. Excepted benefit HRAspermit an employer to establish a new type of excepted benefit HRAthat allows employees to receive reimbursement excepted benefits(such as vision and dental) and short-term coverage.

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In addition to the HRA guidelines, businesses may expectwellness regulation, especially aroundhealth-contingent programs, which reward individuals forhealth-related standards. Because these programs require employeesto demonstrate activity based on performance or outcomes, they aresubject to non-discriminatory standards and privacy rules, whichmust be followed by employers to meet compliance. Recently,amendments have been proposed to change the way these benefits aremeasured and thus companies must follow these changes in an effortnot to inadvertently violate them based on new rulings.

Voluntary benefits breakdown

A 2013 survey of employee benefits professionalsat midsize and large businesses, conducted by consultancy TowersWatson, showed that employers strongly believe voluntary benefitswill become more important to their total rewards strategy over thenext five years. Now, in 2019, it seems like the trend has stuck.Many employees say they are more likely to stay with their currentemployer primarily due to the voluntary benefits package offered.

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Voluntary benefits have become more mainstream and can add anextra edge to a company's hiring strategies. However, these optionsoften fall through the cracks—especially during open enrollment.It's important that organizations be strategic and thoughtful whenselecting the products to offer and ensure they add value. Othersteps to take around voluntary benefits include:

  • Tailor to an employee needs, backed by data
  • Provide easy access and integrate with core benefits
  • Allow for personal preferences and customization
  • Provide decision support tools
  • Communicate and educate employees

Shifting benefits back from burden to asset

Attracting and retaining a talented, committed workforce iscritical for employers, so we are seeing a shift in benefits frombeing a burden to an asset. When an employer's benefits programsmeet the needs of employees, the company enjoys a significantcompetitive advantage—among other things. Employers can connecttheir benefits to their current company culture while using them tohelp shape a new culture they're trying to create.

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Personalizing benefits for today's multi-generational workforceis also imperative, as well as centralizing and simplifying thebuying experience—including making it mobile. Employers shouldrenew focus on communication and education, shifting the mindset ofbenefits being an administrative task to packaging and marketingthese plans as a comprehensive compensation package.

Best practices and next steps

When evaluating benefits programs, there are a few importantthings for organizations to consider to ensure their health andwellness plans keep them competitive and stand out amongcompetitors:

  • Understand the requirements and what benefits aremandatory.
  • Focus on your workforce profile (demographics, locations,attitudes, preferences, etc.).
  • Develop and activate against a benefits strategy that addressesgoals and objectives, while laddering up to a bigger companymission.
  • Consider your administrative practices, from policies totools.
  • Create a checklist of the major items to keep in mind year toyear, including general updates (i.e., eligibility, name changes,etc.), establishing a communication plan for notifyingemployees/participants of the annual enrollment period.

Most important is finding the best platforms or third-partyresources to ensure companies are adhering to complianceobligations.

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Evolving benefits are the future, and employees will continue toexpect more. By assessing benefits programs annually, companieswill remain on the forefront of changing cultural trends, newguidelines and compliance challenges. Benefits should not be anafterthought but rather an important component of every HCMprogram. They are essential in creating a happy, dedicatedworkforce; and in today's evolving world of work, companies canstrategically leverage employee benefits as a recruitment andretention tool—a true win-win for employers and employees.

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Sushma Tripathi SushmaTripathi serves as vice president, StrategicAdvisory Services, in ADP's Strategic Advisory Services group. Join her for a webcast exploring this topicfurther on October 24. 


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