Employee Benefits Trends in 2017

5 Employee Benefit Trends to Watch in 2017

What will 2017 have in store for employee benefits?

We've done our end-of-year retrospectives (herehere and here), but now it's time to look forward.

From our point of view, here are some of the top benefits trends you can expect to shape the year ahead.

1. Personalized Plan Offerings and Communication

We've talked a lot this past year about how the concept of "one size fits all" is no longer acceptable in employee benefits. Expect the trend to continue.

As the job market continues to improve and companies have to work harder to attract and retain top talent, providing benefits that satisfy a diverse set of employee needs will be an increasingly important way for employers to stay competitive. 

This starts with health plan options, but employees are also beginning to expect a robust offering of supplemental coverage that can fit into their unique life situation. Voluntary benefits including accident, legal and pet insurance will be "must-haves" for employers of all sizes before too long.

The spirit of personalization is arguably even more important when it comes to communication. Especially considering how the workforce will be increasingly dominated by millennials, a generation molded by on-demand, interactive content tailored to the individual.

Employers must continue to find ways to communicate with their employees in a language they understand, through channels they prefer (think mobile-first for those millennials), and with a message that resonates on a personal level to drive better decision making.

2. Financial Wellness Targeting Student Debt

It's no secret that the single greatest source of stress for employees is financial stress, which not only hurts employees but also employers’ bottom lines. Addressing this situation must be a priority in 2017.

Employers who implement comprehensive financial wellness and education programs can help employees gain firmer financial footing. And since student loan debt is, for many employees (not just the young ones), the primary antagonist, employers should make sure to target that area. 

Student loan debt education, consolidation and repayment will likely be crucial components of benefit offerings for organizations looking to recruit and retain top performers. With the burden of student loan debt lightened, employees will not only be more engaged and productive at work, but also able to afford to invest more in their long-term financial security.

They'll breathe and sleep easier. And so will their employers.

3. Data-Driven Insight

HR and benefit professionals face a dual mandate to 1) reduce health care spending and 2) attract and retain top talent. Good information can ensure success. 

Forward-thinking employers will continue to invest in the power of "big data" to guide their benefits strategy.

Benefits data analytics tools provide on-demand, real-time insight into what's driving health care costs and how employees are using their benefits, so employers make informed decisions about plan design and communication efforts. And, by integrating individual health insurance claims data into the enrollment experience, employers can help employees make more cost-effective plan choices that result in savings for both employees and the company.

As talent management plays an increasingly vital role in organizational success, working with a data-driven mindset will help HR and benefit professionals transform from tactical administrators into strategic business leaders.  

4. Digital Health for Cost & Convenience

We know that deductibles are getting higher for nearly everyone. We also know that many Americans are cash-strapped. Obviously, this presents a dilemma.

Facing hefty out-of-pocket costs, employees are more likely to skip out on care they need – because they simply can’t afford it. In fact, nearly half of middle-class workers admit that they have gone without medical services due to the expense, which, needless to say, can seriously hurt employees in the long run.

Delayed care can be extremely costly to employers, as well. Not only does it result in more lost work days when untreated conditions get worse and, in extreme cases, employees ending up on disability; it also negatively impacts productivity when you have employees working while sick.

That's why digital health will continue to grow in popularity. These tools allow employees to access health care anytime, anywhere, at a fraction of the normal cost. Patients can use their mobile devices to talk, text or video chat with a doctor, share photos and test results, and get immediate answers, treatment and referrals for things that used to require driving across town and sitting in a waiting room for an hour.

Not only does digital health give employees some welcome reprieve from high out-of-pocket costs, it also offers the convenience of on-demand care. Employees can now get better sooner, while minimizing productivity loss.

5. ACA Uncertainty

With a new Republican president taking office in 2017, the ACA stands to undergo significant changes, if it's not dismantled altogether. As ever, employers will need to keep their eye on Washington.

Much of the new administration's plan for health care reform remains unclear. However, it is very likely that the unpopular "Cadillac tax" on high-cost health plans will go away. But the need to rein in health care spending - not only to minimize the impact on employers' bottom lines, but also to control the financial impact health care has on their employees - will not go away.

Health care benefits have undeniable value in attracting and retaining talent, so employers will want to focus on offering benefits that make sense for their employee population, and providing the tools and resources that enable employees to make cost-effective decisions with respect to those benefits.

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