Trends in Employee Benefits Make the Case for Innovative Benefits Administration Technology

17 August 2017

It’s fair to say that today, employers and employees both have far different expectations of employee benefits than ever before. Which isn’t surprising when you consider the double-whammy of a workforce that’s aging on the one hand and seeing an increasing share of millennials on the other. Or when you consider the increasing and growing demand for flexible scheduling and remote working arrangements, and the increasing dependence on the contingent workforce. Meanwhile, attitudes around employee benefits are being transformed by greater acceptance of the power of employee engagement and total wellness, increased health costs, and a tightening job market.

As a result, strategies and administration of employee benefits are being reevaluated and revised to play a greater role in recruiting and employee retention. They will continue to be refined to appeal to a more demographically diverse workforce, and to meet ever-more complex regulatory and compliance demands. It’s a far different world for employee benefits than it was even five or 10 years ago. And the technology of benefits administration — the software and platforms that create the user experiences for employees and administrators alike — is going to continue to evolve in ways that benefits administrators need to understand and brace for.

Consider, for example, that 95 percent of employers offered healthcare benefits to opposite-sex spouses compared with 71 percent in 2014, and 85 percent offer healthcare benefits to same-sex spouses, compared with only 46 percent in 2014, according to the SHRM 2017 Employee Benefits Report. The report also found that:

  • 34 percent of companies are offering health care coverage to part-time employees, up from 27 percent in 2014.
  • 59 percent have a general wellness program for employees.
  • 62 percent allow some type of telecommuting.
  • 57 percent offer flextime — allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by the employer.
  • 30 percent provide paid maternity leave beyond what is covered by short-term disability or state law, an increase from 26 percent in 2016.

Within those broad trends, you can find other, more specific changes occurring. For example, the rising cost of healthcare (the rate of increase for premiums is expected to outpace inflation and budget increases for salaries) has led to an increase in the growth of healthcare spending accounts (HSAs) — and the trend is expected to continue. A 2016 report from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) said 92 percent of employers offering high-deductible plans expected to offer HSAs in 2017, compared with 87 percent in 2015.

This isn’t a trend affecting only larger organizations. The NBGH predicted smaller companies that offer high-deductible plans will also be likely to offer more HSAs, while every employer is wondering if they will see new changes in how HSAs are regulated under the current president and lawmakers.

Within SHRM’s finding of an increase in wellness programs is a trend toward more “total well-being” programs — programs that address areas such as financial and emotional health. A report last year from the NBGH and Fidelity Investments found that more employers are adding programs that help employees manage stress, improve their resiliency, and assist with their financial challenges. In 2016, 87 percent of employers offered emotional or mental well-being programs, and 76% provide financial health programs, according the NBGH. When employers were asked about such plans in the future, 67 percent said they plan to expand their efforts.

HR and benefits administration leaders today need a platform that allows them to easily and effectively pivot their management and communication of employee benefits and related programs. They need HR technology that includes the flexibility to more narrowly target employee education and user experiences. For everyone at each stage of the expanding employee life cycle, the changing expectations of what benefits should deliver demand a system that will alleviate the complexities of benefit enrollment, administration, and compliance.

Benefits administration needs to be intuitive, easy-to-use and manage and optimally, be delivered through a single, consolidated application. It’s the only safe and forward-thinking response to the meeting the continuous shift in benefits demands and expectations.

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