- The 2019 employee benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 20% of employers boosted health-related and wellness benefits this year. The expansion in benefits reflects the finding that, of the 2,763 HR professionals surveyed in April, a majority view healthcare benefits as most important to workers.
- As rising healthcare costs motivate firms to take proactive steps to mitigate climbing coverage costs, offers of wellness benefits such as treadmill desks and flexible work options are steadily rising, despite the fact that the majority of HR professionals view wellness benefits as only "moderately important" to employees. The data also showed upward trends in employers offering telemedicine benefits (72%) and high-deductible plans linked with health saving or spending accounts (59%).
- SHRM said that the jump in offers of student loan repayment assistance, which doubled this year to 8% of employers, indicates that companies are also gearing benefits toward the age demographics of their workforce.
Employers are offering additional benefits to win over talent in a tight labor market. As healthcare premium costs outpace inflation and wage growth, expanding health-related benefits is a popular choice. 2018 numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation saw premiums increase 5% for family and 3% for single coverage in employer-sponsored insurance plans from the previous year.
High healthcare costs are likely part of the rise in popularity of telemedicine benefits, as the percentage of employers offering the service has jumped 49 points since 2016, according to SHRM survey data. Healthcare industry leaders say that even for employees under high-deductible plans, telehealth services tend to cost less than in-person visits, and offer greater options of specialist care. "When we think about rural employers, this is a benefit that stands out as a differentiator," Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer for SHRM, said during a press event at the SHRM 2019 annual conference.
In attempts to minimize a growing burden of healthcare costs but avoid levying expenses on employees, firms are expanding some wellness benefits, with 20% of employers offering more than they did last year, SHRM noted. Thirty-one percent of companies surveyed by SHRM said they offer discounts on premiums for employees who engage in weight loss or other wellness programs — an 11-point increase from 2018. The proportion of companies offering part-time telecommuting (42%) as well as standing desks (60%) and on-site quiet rooms (21%), also expanded.
Though preferred provider organization plans, currently offered by 85% of employers surveyed, outpace other healthcare coverage options, 59% of employers offer high deductible plans linked with health reimbursement arrangements or health spending accounts — an option popular among millenials.
SHRM said that as rising health insurance coverage costs "eat up" benefit budgets, employers are making some funding decisions based on the demographics of their employees. As Generation Z enters the workforce in greater numbers, student loan repayment assistance programs are growing in popularity and changing the benefits landscape. Eight percent of employers surveyed offer student loan repayment assistance, up from 4% last year, and the figure is expected to keep rising. Companies such as PwC have rolled out programs with big headline figures to address employees' student debt, which have add-on effects of attracting and retaining talented employees, as well as reducing financial stress — a cited cause of performance problems.
Loan repayment benefits are currently not tax-exempt for employers, but SHRM-backed legislation (H.R. 1043 and its companion, S. 460) introduced earlier this year proposed that this change, a move which could pave the way for more employers to offer the option.
Notably, other demographic-angled benefits have dropped off in growth. While two to three years ago SHRM saw a rise in fertility offerings, including egg freezing, they aren't seeing that growth continue, Alonso said.