Employers eye worker-centered health benefit options: survey

Employee satisfaction
Employers are seeking ways to engage workers in health benefits, and to harness those programs for recruitment. (AntonioGuillem/Getty)

Employers are rethinking their approach to health benefit design to curb rising costs—and to stay competitive in a tight job market, a new report shows. 

Harvard Business Review and League conducted a survey of 238 organizations and found that 77% of employers who participated believe offering “innovative” benefits to employees is a crucial tool for competing for the best workers. 

In addition, 57% said the number of health benefits programs they offer is increasing, and 51% expect health benefits to become even more important in the future than they are at present. 

“Employers say offering an attractive health benefits package gives them an important tool to differentiate their organization from the others competing for the same scarce talent,” the Harvard researchers wrote. 

RELATED: Study—U.S. employers’ medical cost set to rise 6.5% in 2020 

As healthcare costs continue to increase, some employers are stepping into an “activist” role in the industry, pushing for significant change to bring down rising costs. They’re also rethinking traditional steps to shift costs to employees to mitigate these concerns. 

From a recruitment perspective, 92% of the organizations surveyed by Harvard Business Review said that offering comprehensive benefits demonstrates the employer “understands and cares for the needs and wants of its employees.” And in a highly competitive job market, that can be a crucial differentiating factor, the respondents said. 

Plus, employers are concerned that their workers aren’t effectively selecting benefits for themselves, the survey found. Fewer than half (41%) said they believe employees are qualified to select a plan that works for them. 

About one-third (35%) feel their employees are knowledgeable about healthcare costs and quality, information that’s key to picking the benefits they need. 

RELATED: Large employers embrace advanced primary care in 2020—NBGH survey 

“This lack of awareness and knowledge is reflected in fairly low engagement levels with health benefit programs overall,” the researchers said. Just 28% of the survey respondents said their workers engage actively with the benefits programs they offer. 

To address these problems, employers are employing two key tactics, according to the study: ensuring that workers have a consumer-friendly way to access their benefits and offering information on benefits in moments when it’s most useful to them. 

This will mean a greater focus on finding tech tools that enable these goals, the employers said. Data analytics could more effectively recognize workers’ needs and provide them with the information that’s most valuable, for example. 

“Increased use of tools and technologies, notably data analytics and artificial intelligence, can help employers close the gap between health benefits spending and overall employee well-being,” the researchers wrote.  

“Implementing a single, consumer-like access point to all employee health benefit programs would help employees identify the programs and benefits that best suit them while helping employers manage costs,” they said.