We’re in the throes of open enrollment season, which gives us a great perspective for spotting new developments in the benefits world. This year, the majority of our clients are high-tech companies, health care organizations, and universities. Overall, they’re early adopters and very employee-focused organizations. Because they tend to be ahead of the curve in the benefits arena, they give us good insight into the kind of industry trends we can expect to see in the future.
Getting serious about value-based health care
While the move to high- and higher-deductible health plans continues, employers are still looking for new ways to manage costs. Many organizations have realized that educating employees can only do so much to cut their expenses. Some benefits teams are seeing if they can contain costs by offering customized, value-based health plans that feature narrower networks. They’re altering the elements within their health plans—for example, offering plans that cover only certain providers, prescriptions, or services—and holding providers to pre-determined quality standards.
Employers across all industries are seeing the need to support families in new ways. Offering enhanced parental leave programs is just one of the solutions they’re employing. But they recognize that adding new benefits isn’t enough. They also need to create policies and provide education around helping employees transition back to work after a leave.
Support for families is a big focus this year. For some companies, generous financial support for adoption—up to $25,000 in some cases!—and surrogacy, as well as fertility benefits, have become benefits standouts. To support their employees after the birth of a child, more and more companies are adding flexible working arrangements and—for breastfeeding mothers—services such as breast milk delivery for new mothers who are traveling on business. To further support families, many companies are offering programs that help children with special needs, onsite and back-up child care, and more education programs (such as 529 college savings and college coaching).
Encouraging identity theft protection
Given the Equifax breach, identity theft is at the top of a lot of people’s minds. Employers are either actively promoting their identity theft program as an existing benefit or adding such a program to their benefits portfolio. We’ve been recommending to our clients that they encourage their employees to look into their credit status and put a credit freeze in place.
Focusing on stress and emotional well-being
For many years, companies have been focusing on wellness by offering incentives that link program participation to lower medical premiums or employer HSA contributions. Now, we’re seeing a big shift to emotional well-being, with an emphasis on programs provided through the medical plans as well as stand-alone programs. Many companies are adding “virtual therapy” sessions to their telemedicine offerings, beefing up what has traditionally been the domain of Employee Assistance Programs. And they’re embedding into their wellness programs apps and other tools that inspire mindfulness and meditation—such as Headspace and meQuilibrium.
Driving engagement in niche programs
During the last few years, several of our clients have added multiple niche benefits—and shouted from the rooftops about them. That trend continues.
But some companies are shifting from adding benefits to engaging employees in all the benefits already available to them. For example, in recent years many organizations added focused, “best in class” health and wellness programs. Now, they want to make sure their programs are being used correctly so that they have the intended impact on health outcomes and costs.
To successfully market the full range of your benefits offerings, you need to make it easy for employees to see how they can use your programs in real life. Presenting scenarios such as “When Life Gets Messy,” “As My Family Grows,” and “When I Need Extra Support for My Health”—and illustrating how your programs can offer assistance in those scenarios—is a nice way to break out of the benefits silo and help employees use the right benefits at the right time.
Ongoing engagement requires ongoing communications. So, we’re also building year-round communications plans to support these niche programs.