Employers Expanding Benefits Strategy to Meet Employee Needs

Aligning benefit offerings to the unique needs of different employee cohorts is one way employers are striving to better engage employees with their benefits, Willis Towers Watson found.

Faced with rising costs and continuing struggles to engage employees with their benefits, U.S. employers are expanding their overall corporate benefit strategy to better meet employee needs, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey found the primary benefit strategy challenges U.S. employers expect to face over the next three years are rising benefit costs (82%), followed by difficulties communicating benefit choices to employees (53%) and the differing wants and needs of a multigenerational workforce (50%). Nearly half (47%) cited lack of employee engagement with their benefit programs as a primary challenge.

According to the survey, employers are focusing across a broad range of benefits—starting with wellbeing. When asked about their highest priorities, 80% of respondents cited incorporating employee wellbeing into their benefit programs. That includes physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing programs. Nearly two-thirds (64%) cited aligning benefit provisions with employee wants and needs.

“Employers are investing in understanding their employees through a variety of lenses, including preferences for rewards programs as well as specific approaches to engagement including both high tech and high touch,” Julie Stone, managing director, health and benefits, Willis Towers Watson, tells PLANSPONSOR. “Leading organizations are taking into account varying priorities including talent acquisition and engagement strategies, work location and access to onsite services (clinics, fitness, financial coaching and the like), and unique needs of different cohorts (student debt, health care coverage and affordability, and elder care are a few examples).”

Employers also cited incorporating inclusion and diversity into benefit programs (56%).

The survey also noted some employers are changing their benefit strategy to improve their current programs’ overall effectiveness. For example, only four in 10 respondents said their programs are effective at offering significant choice and flexibility in benefit selection, while nearly half (49%) are effective at tailoring their benefit packages to support their employees’ needs.

“Employers who blend both a quantitative approach through a robust measurement strategy and qualitative insights through a human-centered design approach are well positioned to develop and execute on a multi-year strategy that truly addresses employees’ wants and needs within the context of financial and operational business requirements,” explains Stone.

Employers are putting a greater priority in their benefit strategy on talent experience, including the continuing desire to deliver a technology-enabled benefit deal. Less than three in 10 employers (28%) said they are effective at using decision support and other digital tools to drive engagement.

The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey was conducted during May and June 2019. Respondents totaled more than 4,300 companies from 88 countries, including 400 large and mid-size U.S. companies.