Now's the time to dust off that expired gym membership--companies are investing more in employee benefits this year.
Thanks to an increased awareness of what really motivates employees, or perhaps the hopes of an improving economy, employee benefits are up 35 percent over the year before, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's annual Employee Benefits Survey, released Monday. In particular, companies are helping employees improve their physical fitness and financial well-being, notes the SHRM report.
"We're seeing more increases than decreases, that's a sign that things are getting a little bit back to normal," says Evren Esen, SHRM's director of survey programs.
Employee benefits play a huge part in attracting talent, keeping employees satisfied, and maintaining a healthy and productive office culture. And in today's climate of stagnant income growth, a good benefits package can make a huge difference when it comes to recruiting. SHRM says its past research shows that job seekers often weigh health care coverage, flexible work schedules, and other benefits even more than base salaries.
Here are four ways to keep up with the Joneses so you don't lose out on top talent:
1. Preventative health care
The best way to save money on employees' health insurance is to reduce the need for medical care. A lot of companies are latching on to this idea and offering preventative care to address employee health problems such as smoking, obesity, and chronic health conditions.
Preventative care can include things like promoting physical fitness through gym memberships and inter-office fitness competitions. Some employers also offer counseling to support healthy lifestyle habits. In an attempt to reduce future costs by investing in preventative health and wellness, companies are encouraging employees to place a priority on healthy lifestyles.
Forty-five percent of companies say they offer health and lifestyle coaching, 44 percent offer smoking cessation programs, and 33 percent offer weight loss programs. They're recognizing that not only will preventative care reduce employee health costs in the future, healthy employees are more efficient--they have better morale and take less time off.
2. Fitness tracking with wearables
Wearable fitness trackers are the new laptop of employee benefits. As a component of investing in physical fitness, companies such as BP and Bank of America are providing employees with wearable fitness trackers like FitBits to help them track how much exercise they get throughout the day. The bands also track sleep and heart rate, so employees can take steps to stay on top of their game physically. Plus, they provide some fun and healthy inter-office competition when employees track their fitness against that of their co-workers.
For the first time, SHRM asked companies if they provided fitness bands or wearable fitness trackers to employees. While only 13 percent said they did, Esen says that's pretty high considering this is a new benefit. First-time benefits are usually found in less than 10 percent of companies during their first year on the survey. In addition, 34 percent of companies said they have wellness competitions--another first-time benefit in this year's survey.
3. Investment advice and financial wellness
Companies don't just care about physical well-being. They're also investing in employees' financial health with one-on-one advising or group investment advice--both of which increased this year.
Compared to 2011, more companies are offering Roth 401(k)s or the public employee equivalents. They're also offering opportunities for investment and retirement advice.
"People used to not think that their company was the place to provide them with this sort of help," Esen tells Inc.com. "Employees will expect it more now, and will look to employers to help with the overall picture."
Esen adds that five to 10 years ago, surveys indicated employers made all the decisions related to health care and didn't involve employees in costs, treatments, or doctors. Now it's a much more collaborative approach. Companies want to increase employees' awareness of the issues and options, so they provide informed guidance on the best plans for each individual.
4. Education and feedback
Less than 10 percent of companies think their employees are well-informed of the benefits available to them, SHRM's report says. If you communicate your benefits clearly, you're already ahead of the game. As an extra challenge, the landscape of employee benefits is changing rapidly, so it's important for companies to stay on top of employee needs and expectations and adjust plans as needed every year.
For companies with 50 or more full-time employees, the biggest challenge in health-care coverage over the next year will be navigating the Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2016, these businesses will be required to provide insurance or pay federal fines, so companies are weighing the costs of various plans, obtaining legal counsel, and sending HR staff to training in preparation.
According to SHRM, few organizations are doing away with health care benefits because of the federal reforms, but they are switching health plans up significantly. It's going to be more important than ever to involve employees and make sure that they too are informed of the relevant changes to their benefits.