Wellness Benefits

14th May 2019

We’ve heard of tech companies such as Facebook and Google that are famous for their over the top employee benefits.  Open all day salad bars, nap pods, gourmet chef cuisine, and in house child care.

Those are all pretty exciting benefits for employees, but what’s the cost and benefit to the employer?  Most of us have had exposure to more traditional benefits like medical and dental coverage, retirement savings plans, maybe massage or physio coverage, but whether they are traditional, or non-traditional benefits, what’s the benefit to employers who provide them, and why do they matter?

I had a chance to discuss how benefits can influence a workplace with Brad Woods who is one of the certified health insurance specialists at Island Group Benefits. Island Group Benefits focus on employee extended health benefits, and work with a wide range of organizations and industries across the island, and mainland.

Engaging Benefits

An organization that engages in the development of a good benefits package that is implemented, managed, and used effectively, can do much more than take care of their employees. They can reap the benefits of employees engaging with the organization.

Brad gave examples where employees that feel healthy, happy, well adjusted, and valued by the organization are more likely to see the organization in a positive light.  It helps them understand where they add value, and make better decisions.  Benefits can help develop this type of engaged culture which is more willing to contribute to organizational objectives, and success, and apply discretionary effort which in turn benefits the organization.  Some benefits of an engaged culture are outlined below:

  • Gallup’s 2016 poll indicated that engaged employees have 48% fewer safety incidents
  • Another report showed engaged employees impacting operational performance with improvements of 37% in sales, and 31% in productivity
  • Developing a reputation as an employer of choice
  • Ability to attract key applicants and talent
  • Reduce turnover and assist in retention
  • Supporting professional development supports employees, and adds skill to workforce
  • Engaged employees can work better as a team

While benefits programs on their own may not drive all these potential impacts, these examples indicate that using a mechanism like benefits programs to support employees wellbeing can have significant upsides.

The Burden of Benefits

So if benefits keep employees happy, and healthy, and can make businesses more efficient, and productive, while attracting and retaining top talent, why doesn’t everyone have phenomenal benefits packages like Google?

Brad explained that as beneficial as benefits can be to organizations, there are definitely challenges to benefits:

  • The demographic spread in some organizations can make it difficult to keep everyone happy with a basic package
  • It can take time and resources to manage and administer the benefits within the organization, which compounds without the right Advisor.
  • More diverse packages are seen as being more costly
  • Aspects that can really support wellness in the workplace are seen as more expensive
  • The cost can be prohibitive for smaller organizations
  • There can be costs to employees which may influence their choices, or selection of benefits packages that don’t meet employee needs
  • In some cases younger employees may be paying for the usage of older employees, and not fully getting the value of the benefits. Cultural differences of Health and wellness can collide

Benefit of Hindsight

Historically many organizations had a benefits program for employees, but they weren’t managed particularly well, were often underused, and used re-actively. Tendencies were to use benefits to respond to an incident of ill health, injury, or unexpected event, which hasn’t always been to the employer or employees benefit.

Considering the long history  of benefits, and their continual evolution, I asked Brad what changes he’s seen in benefits use, and he indicated that many organizations now see the limits to reactive benefits management, and the value of encouraging employees to use the benefits preventatively and proactively to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and reduce injuries and illness creating benefits for both employer and employee.

Trending

I also asked Brad what other trends or changes might also be shifting in relation to employee benefits?  The answer was employers incorporating less traditional plans, and seeing value in implementing more innovative and customized plans that dial in on employee needs.

Below is a list of benefits trends Brad feels we might see more of in the future, and I’ve also included a few from a Benefits Canada article as well:

  • Customized plans that meet individual or group needs or requirements
  • Collaborative efforts between the workforce and employer to engage and discuss where benefits can add the most value
  • Shared cost of benefits between employer and employee to provide high value, sustainable plans
  • Less employee interest in traditional benefits such as just dental, or health plans
  • Increase in progressive plans focusing on wellness and maintaining a healthy workforce
  • Wellness programs as part of a benefits package
  • Repayment of student loans
  • Paid family leave
  • Sabbaticals
  • Childcare support or solutions
  • More support for financial health as well as physical health
  • Continuing awareness of how benefits can support mental health
  • Coverage for medicinal cannabis

Some examples of more exotic employee benefits are pet insurance, and on site amenities such as car washes, haircuts, and a 3 day soccer tournament.  At some point, these benefits merge with culture, but where exactly is the line?

Brad feels that benefits will continue to evolve around social needs, and trends themselves. Considering the demographic of your industry, or workplace can help forecast benefits trends, and potential requirements within your organization that may influence benefit expectations.

Benefit of the Doubt

So with some clear advantages, and challenges associated with benefits, are they worth having?  Some organizations may doubt the advantages of benefits.  Brad thinks they’re worth having, but it does depend on your organizational and employee needs because the more unique and varying your needs are, the more complex the benefits package may become.

Benefits programs that don’t get used, don’t add value to employers, or employees.  If you’re offering benefits, are you getting value out of the program?  If you have a program, and doubt that there’s value for your organization, it’s helpful to consider a few things to verify those thoughts:

  • Consider your workforce, and their potential needs for health and wellness, are they being met?
  • Do you have feedback from employees around their thoughts on your benefits?
  • Is there open and transparent communication on costs and value between employer and employees?
  • Have you reviewed your plan within the last year to determine ongoing suitability?
  • Are you or your plan administrator on top of new options that can enhance a plan?
  • Is your current plan being used?
  • Is the relative cost of the benefits financially feasible for the organization?
  • Would there be adverse effects if you altered or removed the benefits?
  • What effects might there be if the benefits were enhanced?

The bottom line, is if you’ve assessed your program, and still aren’t sure, give them the benefit of the doubt, and leave them intact, the evidence generally supports their organizational value.

Weighing Up the Benefits

Whether you’re considering a benefits program, or you have an existing one, there are a huge range of benefits packages available that can be scaled to any size business, and tailored to meet employer, employee, and organizational needs.  While offering employee benefits might not be for everyone, they do have the potential to influence your workplace.

Evidence seems to indicate that they can improve employee health and wellness, morale and engagement.  They may also provide competitive advantages and help your organization attract and retain employees, reduce employee costs related to poor health, and influence organizational performance.

Every organization has a different culture, and cultures evolve and adjust.  How you choose to offer your benefits isn’t set in stone, and can be tweaked and fine-tuned to reflect your organizations culture, and objectives.  Benefits programs can be traditional, simple, and cost effective, or detailed, and custom designed for your ever changing workforce’s needs.

If you haven’t implemented benefits in your workplace, or reviewed your program, it might be worth considering as it seems in some cases the benefits of offering benefits, outweigh the costs.

Brad Woods will be speaking at our Wellness in the Workplace event May 30th in Nanaimo if you’d like to hear him speak more on this topic.  Alternatively feel free to contact Brad at info@islandgroupbenefits.ca or www.islandgroupbenefits.ca


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