More than half of employers in the accommodation/food services, information technology, transportation and warehousing industries intend to ratchet up non-medical benefits for employees in the next three years. These expansion plans aren’t limited to large companies: Small businesses are among the most enthusiastic promoters; nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of companies with 2 to 99 employees say they intend to boost their non-medical offerings.
The source of this information: MetLife’s 14th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, which highlights increased opportunities for employers to enrich “the benefits experience” of their workers. To that end, they’re not only availing workers of more non-traditional protection products, but also enhancing educational initiatives to increase employee engagement in benefits offerings.
Why the big push? The ability to gain a competitive edge in the hunt for talent is a big factor. As the MetLife study notes, today’s workers, most especially millennials, have a burgeoning list of “must-have” job benefits, such as critical illness, disability income and pet insurance, among other protection products. A growing number of employers recognize, too, that generous benefits offerings also are good for the bottom line, as financially and physically fit workers are more productive and loyal.
Hence the heightened focus among recruitment-savvy employers on financial health and wellness programs, initiatives that have been well received. Again, Gen Y stands out here: 3 in 10 millennials (as compared to 23 percent of their boomer brethren) “appreciate” employer incentives encouraging them to “take steps” to improve their financial well-being. The differential is even more pronounced when workers are asked about their gratitude for reminders to “save versus spend” (26 percent of millennials vs. 15 percent of boomers); and for employer educational/communications initiatives about good savings and spending habits.
As employers expand their benefits portfolios, they’ll be looking increasingly to third-parties — not least agents and advisors active in the worksite space — to help in facilitating plan adoption, implantation, education and engagement. “By tapping into the expert guidance of enrollment communication firms, brokers, consultants, and other third-party partners, employers will be better equipped with a mix of digital, telephonic, and in-person tools and resources to help their employees make confident, informed benefit decisions,” the study observes.
To gain further insight into the MetLife survey findings and key takeaways for advisors, LifeHealthPro interviewed James Reid, executive vice president and head of regional and small business solutions at MetLife. During a 30-minute phone conversation, Reid explored 5 key benefit trends at small employers — encompassing legal services, data security, financial wellness, enrollment and plan customization — that advisors will need to keep close tabs on in the coming years. The following are excerpts.
More small businesses are incorporating into benefits packages legal services that help workers deal with issues respecting certain life events, including estate planning. (Photo: Thinkstock)
LifeHealthPro: For how long has MetLife been publishing its employee benefits trends study? What insights do you seek to gain from the research?
Reid (pictured below): We’ve been publishing the study annually for 14 years. We provide a view on trends we’re seeing, trends that are important both from a MetLife and industry perspective. This year’s report is especially significantly for us, as we’re celebrating in 2017 our 100th year in the group benefits business. The good news is that we foresee continued growth of voluntary benefits in the small business market.
LHP: The latest study flags a rise in legal services among small businesses. What do these plans cover and what accounts for their increased popularity?
Reid: Plans to deal with legal issues respecting certain life events — buying a home, getting married, having a baby or caring for an aging parent — can be a big help to employees. Workers across generations are signing up for these prepaid plans, but interest is notably pronounced among millennials; many of them view such services as a “must-have” job benefit.
Of adults that are offered a legal plan through work, nearly 70 percent of those ages 21-34 — the millennials — are enrolled. The Society of Human Resource Management finds that 25 percent of companies now offer one or more legal benefits. That’s about a 13 percent increase since 2006.
LHP: What do the legal services include?
Reid: These vary from company to company. MetLaw, which provides legal services from Hyatt Legal Plans, offers access to a national network of 14,000-plus experienced attorneys. They can advise on such matters as wills and estate planning documents, real estate, debt issues, traffic defense, family law, power of attorney, identity theft and elder care.
Launched last September as part of MetLife Simply Smart Bundles, which includes a combination of dental and vision insurance, the prepaid group legal services plan is designed for small and midsize businesses with 10 to 99 employees. It’s the same plan we previously offered to larger employers, but the new solution will be available as an exclusive, voluntary option with the Bundles package, with no minimum participation requirements.
Companies are increasingly availing workers of benefits info through a mobile app, an option that nearly 6 in 10 of the millennials MetLife surveyed see as an effective tool. (Photo: Thinkstock)
LHP: Let’s turn to data security, which the MetLife study identifies as a rising concern among employers and workers. What can small employers do to address this issue?
Reid: Employers can shore up their digital support chain by moving to a single benefits carrier to limit the exposure of employee data. With the average cost of a large-scale data breach pegged at about $4 million, enhancing data security through a single carrier in the delivery of benefits — for record-keeping, enrollment, plan design, claims, billing, reporting and other benefits functions — is a smart investment.
Related: 8 benefits trends to watch in 2017
And not just for protecting against losses from a data breach. Companies also must consider their capacity to recruit and retain talented workers, a top benefits objective of 4 in 5 employers. That objective can be undermined if the employer-employee relationship is impaired because workers have less confidence in their company’s ability to protect benefits data.