Are Better Benefits the Solution to the Employee Wellness Problem?
June is Employee Well-being Month, and that means employers are taking a hard look at the health and happiness of their employees -- and what they can do to improve it. That makes sense: Much of the conversation on employee health these days focuses on wellness programs and how to make them work for employees.
But, instead of sinking more time and money into several wellness programs that may not catch fire, perhaps employers should consider the simple, proven solution sitting right in front of them: employee benefits.
Consider an interesting finding from a survey conducted by #HRWins and my company, Namely: Specifically, 54.3 percent of employees and HR professionals working for companies with fewer than 5,000 employees said they chose core benefits like health insurance as the perk or benefit they felt contributed most to their feelings of engagement.
In short, while walking challenges or office fitness groups certainly help employees improve their health, employees won't be at their healthiest without adequate core benefits. Advancing healthier employee lifestyle, then, starts with offering the best health plans and related benefits.
Here's how better benefits improve employee wellness:
Health insurance keeps employees in tip-top shape.
When employees are stressed, they tend to fall into an unhealthy pattern -- they neglect their own well-being, which only makes stress worse. In fact, a survey done by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015 found that some stressed-out respondents acknowledging that they actually skipped doctor visits to save money.
But with solid health insurance plans, employees get the appropriate care they need, even when they're sick, stressed and short on cash. Health starts with effective insurance, before you even get to additional perks like free healthy snacks and group exercise classes. In the recent #HRWins and Namely survey, when asked about the most engaging benefit or perk, employees picked health benefits ahead of rewards for good work, office environment (including games, food and furniture) and public recognition of good work. Employees want health benefits, and they want to stay healthy.
Offering consumer-directed health plans that include health savings accounts (HSAs) can help employees take care of problems proactively instead of ignore them. These accounts allow employees to save money tax-free for medical expenses. Assuming they remain healthy, employees' use of HSAs can lead to considerable pre-tax savings -- especially when their employers contribute to the accounts. That way, employees are encouraged to be more mindful about their health and more involved in making decisions for the best-value care.
Although perks help alleviate stress, the security of a health plan stops the vicious stress cycle before it starts and helps employees tackle health issues head on.
Voluntary benefits meet employee needs.
A one-size-fits-all health plan won't help keep the entire workforce healthy; employees have different needs, after all. Some employees may want the best dental and vision insurance available, while others may prioritize the peace of mind they'll get from having life and disability insurance.
In a survey of 1,203 employees conducted by MetLife in 2014, 60 percent said they were willing to bear more of the cost of their benefits to have more choices, to better meet their needs.
Give employees more control, then, over their own well-being by offering elective or voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits are insurance products employees can add to their plans to fill gaps in health insurance. They are typically offered by employers and paid completely or mostly by employees through payroll deferrals.
Traditional voluntary benefits include life insurance, vision, dental, disability, cancer and critical illness insurance and accident insurance. While these benefits certainly improve employee well-being, new and non-traditional benefits can also help tackle specific health and wellness concerns.
Here are a few that can make a huge difference for the health of employees:
Telemedicine can help stressed-out employees who feel they don't have time to visit the doctor. Your people can call or open an app to connect with a physician who can handle simple diagnoses and fill prescriptions. Some platforms like HealthiestYou can also save employees money by analyzing prescription costs and revealing which pharmacy will give them the best price.
Commuter benefits can help make the daily stress of the commute easier for employees. One plus is that payroll taxes don't apply to tax-free transportation fringe benefits because they are not considered wage or salary compensation. Employees save money with a maximum monthly tax exclusion of $255 per month for commuter vehicles, public transit passes and qualified parking benefits.
Financial benefits ease stress.
Money stresses out employees more than employers realize -- so much so that 72 percent of adults surveyed by the American Psychological Association said they felt stressed about money at least some of the time, while 22 percent said they experienced extreme financial stress. And that's a problem because when stress is extreme, it impacts employee health and productivity on the job.
Offering financial benefits helps employees better manage their money and feel less stressed. Consider offering student loan repayment assistance to help reduce financial stress, as well. After all, 55 percent of student loan holders surveyed by Iontuition in July 2015 said they would rather see health benefit contributions from their employer go toward paying off their debt.
What's more, 49 percent said they would rather have student loan payment contributions than a 401k plan!
Also, think about offering financial-planning and money-management workshops and seminars. Employee benefits can ease the huge burden that financial stress places on employees. And that "benefit" will improve their health and help them perform their best.
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