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cohealth tweet chat recap: what metlife’s 9th annual study of employee benefits trends reveals

July 22, 2011

in cohealth

this month’s cohealth chat focused on what’s happening in the world of employee benefits. specifically, we explored metlife’s 9th annual study of employee benefits trends with our guide, ron leopold, metlife’s V.P., U.S. business. i’ll follow this recap with a separate post with answers to the many questions we didn’t have time to answer during our chat.

we kicked off the chat with a broad question about where are we making headway with employee benefits and where aren’t we? this year, there’s a lot of “aren’t.” employers are so focused on the bottom line, ron noted, they’re ignoring retention and loyalty issues. yet loyalty is the lowest it’s been in five years. this year’s report shows that one in three employees hopes to be working elsewhere before the year’s end. paying attention to benefits is one way to stem this stampede. metlife’s research finds that 60% of employees say their benefits are an important reason they stay with their company, and 49% say it’s why they chose the company they joined. as one cohealth member noted, benefits are the average joe’s golden handcuffs.

our next question asked how can employers strengthen the link between benefits and retention? ron noted that the recession’s impacted generations differently. and while there’s plenty of discussion of four generations in the workplace, the focus is largely on work styles, not on needs. he advocated greater diversity and choice. offering voluntary benefits is one way to deliver choice, as they allow employees to select only relevant benefits. younger employees, in particular, want more voluntary benefits and greater work-life flex. ron cautioned about portablity: employees may desire portability, but it doesn’t secure retention. employers need to know their audience and consider their end-game.

several cohealth members brought up the challenges in offering voluntary benefits. there’s a vicious cycle of offering, enrolling and pricing. employers must be sure that interest equals enrollment or they may end up with an over-priced, under-enrolled benefit that eventually gets yanked.

we segued from this conversation on diversity and choice to one on financial well-being, which was called out in this year’s study. i asked what can employers do better here? ron advised employers to acknowledge and focus on the well-recognized link between financial, physical and emotional health, not to mention productivity. the study found that 78% of employers say employees are less productive when they’re worried about finances. employers can tackle financial insecurity with tools, education and direct guidance.

with the hour quickly going by, we jumped to a discussion about why do employers continue to ignore social media tools when it comes to benefits communications? i threw out some statistics from the study: 70% of employers say they don’t use social media, and they cite lack of resources, perceived value and interest, and legal concerns as their reasons. cohealth members noted that many times the decision maker doesn’t understand the tools, creating another roadblock. yet employees definitely want to get information this way. more statistics: 39% of Gen X want information via mobile tools and 38% want it via social networks. Gen Y doesn’t radically differ. 42% of Gen Y respondents want information through mobile tools and social networks. the interest from older and younger boomers hovers in the 10%–12% range when it comes to mobile tools and social networks and jumps to 60% for communications via an internet site; Gen X and Gen Y are at 75% and 80%, respectively. (not covered during the chat, but Gen X and Gen Y show interest in receiving information via text messaging too.) the takeaway here is that employees want it. how employers incorporate social media tools into their benefits communication strategy should depend on their audience’s preferred channels—as with any sound communication strategy.

around this time, an interesting side conversation was taking place about an employer’s role in providing benefits. is it their job to keep employees satisfied or to help employees make responsible decisions? employers have long taken a very paternal approach when it comes to benefits. will they start questioning that approach more vigorously as costs continue to rise and options become available? we didn’t explore this, and i’d like to. i think it makes for a great future cohealth topic.

our final question focused on the future of employer-provided benefits. will employers drop them or won’t they? the big question, as ron stated it, is “pay or play. do we pay the penalty or stay in the business?” he felt the answer would vary by the size of the company and the type of workforce. a few cohealth members said the economics were easy. the penalty is more attractive than the cost of health care. i wager that large employers will look to cost-shifting and juggling their plan design before dropping benefits. the projected increase in the number of employers offering high-deductible health plans, or offering only these plans, is one such tact. ron feels employers won’t ever get out of benefits. they’ll just shift their focus. voluntary benefits like disability and life insurance will become more critical in a post-health care reform world, he predicted. we’ll also see more defined contribution medical plans.

you can find the full metlife report here.

upcoming cohealth chats

august 17: topic to be announced

sept 19: games for health and engagement; guest: trapper markelz, head of product, meyou health

we host cohealth tweet chats the third wednesday of every month between noon and 1 PM ET. find the full 2011 calendar here, including recaps from previous chats.

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