Woman relaxing Comprehensivewhole-health and well-being strategies are gradually gaining ground— up 2 points from last year to 20 percent in 2019..(Photo:Shutterstock)

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It's definitely an employee market when it comes to workplacebenefit offerings, according to Gallagher's 2019 Benefits Strategy & BenchmarkingSurvey.

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Record-low unemployment, coupled with higher turnover rates, isprompting employers to enhance their benefit offerings and many arealso holding off on premium increases, according tothe report.

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"The antidote to employee restlessness, churn—and a compromisedorganizational culture—is regularly identifying and refreshingrewards to match the preferences of distinct employee populations,"the authors write. "Delay increases risk in a competitive market,so a relative sense of urgency is important."

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Related: The 'Total Rewards' way to attract and retaintalent

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In 2019, employers most often strengthened their total rewardsby enhancing compensation (73 percent) and medical benefits (52percent). But employers also enhanced other offerings, includingvoluntary and supplemental benefits (40 percent), leave policies(37 percent), well-being initiatives (32 percent) and retirementbenefits (31 percent) and pharmacy benefits (18 percent).

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"What employers can least afford is stagnation, so total rewardsapproaches must evolve along with the market," the authors write."They must also improve incrementally in ways that complementbusiness priorities and sustainability. Achievement of theseobjectives can't be bought with the most expensive or extensiveofferings, but they can be attained with competitive benefits thatare designed to appeal more strongly to the wants and needs of keytalent."

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Employers are also holding off on increasing the share thatworkers pay for health care – across the board. Indeed, nearly half(47 percent) of employers did not increase employees' cost sharingat all in 2019, up from 45 percent the previous year. No addedexpenses were absorbed by plan participants for premiums,deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums or drugs.

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"In 2019, employers continue to balance employee cost sharingwith other methods of proactively reducing the financial burdenthrough a focus on preventing disease and improving workforcehealth," the authors write.

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The most frequently employed cost-management tactic is the useof telemedicine (52 percent). Other strategiesinclude changing plan carriers (33 percent); applying narrowprovider networks (14 percent); using designated centers ofexcellence (8 percent); integrating health and disabilitymanagement (7 percent) and offering second-opinion services (6percent).

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To encourage workers to lower health care costs, employers areoffering well-being incentives (41 percent), chronic care orpreventive disease management (26 percent),cost-transparency tools (24 percent) and nonsmoker premiumdiscounts (12 percent).

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Additional cost-management strategies include restricting healthplan dependent eligibility and monitoring adherence to rules, suchas performing eligibility audits (16 percent), enacting a spousalsurcharge or exclusion (13 percent), auditing claims (12 percent)or applying a separate charge per dependent (7 percent).

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Gallagher also found that comprehensive whole-health andwell-being strategies are gradually gaining ground — up 2 pointsfrom last year to 20 percent in 2019.

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"Designed to take a cost-effective, integrated approach tobenefits, they focus on better meeting not only employees' physicalhealth needs, but also the financial, career and emotional aspectsof their well-being" the authors write. "The tendency to choosethis approach increases with the size of an organization."

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Among employers that go without a well-being strategy (49percent), the most common reason is a lack of staff capacity ortime to implement programs (57 percent). Other obstacles include ashortage of employee interest (28 percent), uncertainty about thereturn on investment (23 percent) and leadership's belief that"well-being isn't their organization's role" (12 percent). Of thosecurrently without a strategy, 41 percent plan to add one by2021.

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"The value of employee well-being has the potential to reach farbeyond claims data" the authors write. "And more employers arerealizing that it powers all the key metrics of profitableperformance, including better management outcomes for absence andleave, health risks and disease — as well as improved engagement,productivity and retention."

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Employers are also making these enhancements and changes:

  • Expanding elective health offerings: nearly half or moreemployers now offer autism treatment (64 percent), hearing aids (48percent), bariatric surgery (47 percent) and infertility servicesor fertility treatment (46 percent).
  • Financial-wellness offerings: 69 percent of employers now offerfinancial advisor sessions; 54 percent provide financial literacyeducation and 49 percent offer tuition assistance.

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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.