According to the 2015 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey(1), more than half of all full time employed Americans spend little more than 30 minutes making their benefits selections during open enrollment. While demands for better benefits are on the rise, employee understanding of benefit options has stayed stagnant. In 2016, trends in benefit offerings encourage employers and employees to not only understand benefit offerings during open enrollment, but to look to trends coming up in the next few years that will expand the quality of those benefit offerings. Many employers will find themselves offering much more than health, dental, and vision to entice the best candidates to take employment with them and remain at their workplace for the long-term. Below is a list of important trends for 2016 to take into consideration:
- Higher costs for insurance. In general, companies are absorbing some of that cost and passing the rest on to employees, either through higher premiums on traditional plans or shifting toward consumer-driven health plans, which allow workers to pay lower premiums in exchange for high deductibles and copays.
- The great shuffle in health provider networks.As insurers look for ways to reduce healthcare costs, they’re doing so by consolidating plans and narrowing the networks of doctors and medical providers with whom they offer preferred rates. That means that even with the same insurance plan for 2016, it pays to check and see if clinics and doctors are still in the “network.”
- Wellness programs have more strings attached.Even with some debate as to the viability of wellness programs, there hasn’t been a down trend in integration of these programs with traditional health care offerings. In 2016, many employers will begin to offer incentives in order to get employees to prove they are participating. Many companies are providing employees with health-tracking technology devices to show that the participation is producing results.
- Technology-based medicine management services.With the uptick in employers offering on-site clinics to give workers cheap, easy access to healthcare for minor afflictions and vaccinations; they’re now taking that trend a step further. Employers are working with insurers to provide telemedicine services so that workers (and their covered families) can access doctors via phone or video message, thus preventing precious time driving to and from appointments.
- 401(k) management features.In 2016, employers will be taking the automatic contributions to their 401(k) further by allowing workers to opt-in for other automatic features such as auto-escalation and auto-rebalancing(2), which will adjust a contributor’s allocation to a new amount based on percentage if it gets out of sync with market trends.
- Help with student loans.Some employers have caught on to the burden that student loan repayments have on employees. Employees often have to consider the amount of take home pay to adequately cover high student loan payments in addition to other more common household costs. Offering contributions towards student loan repayments is a growing trend in benefits; with some companies offering up to $1,200 a year toward its employees’ student loans debts. Some companies are even offering workers’ loans refinancing programs and educational programs aimed at helping workers pay their loans off as quickly as possible with lower interest rates.
- Help with financial planning. Student loans aren’t the only personal finance area in which companies are offering new benefits. A growing number of companies are offering access to financial planners or online tools. Providing education in not only retirement planning but also in making sound financial decisions, such as staying out of debt, planning for children, or buying a house is becoming a common service to include in voluntary deduction-based employee’s benefits packages.
- More generous leave policiesBusinesses are beginning to recognize that parenting plays a huge role in the workplace and work/life balance takes serious consideration. With the U.S. being so far behind the other countries with regard to parental leave, the US is losing workers to overseas companies and being condemned in the global workplace. To counteract that, many global-based tech companies are expanded policies that reflect common practice in European in hopes of increasing retention of highly skilled US employees. Companies, like Google, Netflix, and Microsoft have been making high-profile changes to their parental leave policies aimed at giving both men and women more time to adjust to being new parents and to more smoothly transition back into the workplace as well as generous PTO, flexible schedules, and work from home options for parents to care for a sick child.
If you’re an employer that hasn’t taken a look at adopting these new trends, or if you are an employee with essential skills, it pays to take time and evaluate what benefits best reflect your goals and really understanding what your benefits policies mean. In 2016, with health care reform forcing us to take a closer look at benefits, knowing your options can really pay off in quality of life for the year to come.