Optimize your group benefits plan with a focus on total wellness

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A woman working at a laptop and researching group benefits plans

Your organization has a comprehensive group benefits plan with strong medical, life and dental coverage. Maybe it has a mental health services component and even a health spending account that allows employees to spend in areas that suit their lifestyle needs. If your package looks like this, congratulations—you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to your organization’s group benefits offering. But the reality is that many employers are falling short when it comes to meeting their employees’ pandemic-era benefit needs and expectations.

That’s according to a new Conference Board of Canada survey for Telus Health that found a significant gap between employees’ desired benefits and what employers are actually offering. As the survey noted, most employees receive only partial health coverage as part of their compensation package. Even if they have access to an HSA, they tend to spend it on medical or prescription drug coverage, instead of increasingly sought-after mental health coverage or other wellness-related benefits.

The report found that core dental services, eye exams, coverage for glasses and contacts and retirement savings plans still top employees’ group benefits wish lists. But depending on the composition of the workforce, the importance that employees assign to these offerings varies significantly by factors such as age, gender and family status. Put simply, a parent of three is far more likely to desire complete family dental coverage than a twenty-something who might prefer to have access to alternative benefit options that cater to their personal wellness needs.

Researchers “… found gaps of up to 83 per cent between what people had versus what they felt was important … Overall, about half of respondents have a gap between what they want and what they have, which puts the organization at risk of having a disengaged workforce and/or increased turnover.”

The report authors came to the following (very apropos conclusion): “Future benefits plans should be personalized and cover prevention, virtual healthcare, and telemedicine access as pillars to better attract and retain employees … Beyond health benefits, most employees want flexible work arrangements to support their physical and mental health.”

Asking the right questions

Those kinds of benefits are not only popular, they’re increasingly regarded as critical tools that promote overall employee wellness. For example, 40 per cent of respondents to the Conference Board of Canada survey said they use virtual healthcare for physical or mental health reasons, and 26 per cent prefer online access to in-person services. Not surprisingly, younger respondents—those aged 18 to 34—show a notable preference for digital services compared with senior-aged employees. In addition, 31 per cent of respondents said they would like to use virtual or tele-pharmacies to access prescription medication, at least some of the time.

As we noted in a previous blog, organizations have an opportunity to optimize their group benefits offerings for changing workplace arrangements such as hybrid work. Now that focus takes on far greater priority as employees express their preference for something different from their employers on the group benefits front. Making those changes takes a degree of legwork, but it’s well worth the time and effort. By regularly surveying employees on their lifestyle and physical or mental health needs (anonymously and without running afoul of privacy laws, of course), they can highlight which benefits are their teams’ top priority. By working with their group benefits broker or provider, they can analyze usage patterns and adjust their group benefits expenditures to better suit those employee preferences.

Your benefits provider should manage this process on a proactive basis. At least once a year, but possibly twice or more, they should be meeting (likely virtually at the moment) to review your plans and make changes as necessary. Doing so will also deliver bottom-line benefits by optimizing group benefits coverage and potentially purging costlier offerings that may be going unused.

Time to take action

Unemployment fell to a 20-month low of 6.7 per cent in October. Competition for skilled jobs is high and many employees are burned out as the pandemic drags on. Some are actively looking for new opportunities—even outside of their core industries—and are carefully parsing their employment options. If your organization can enhance its employer brand (or how the organization is perceived by existing and prospective employees) by carefully reassessing and constantly modifying your group benefits package, it stands a far better chance of not only attracting top talent, but also keeping employees engaged.

Because as the Conference Board study pointed out, group benefits packages become even more important to an organization’s retention strategy as the labour market tightens. Delaying their optimization only enhances the risk of losing out on opportunities to build a stronger workforce.

That’s why it’s important to reinforce the message across your leadership and HR teams—and communicate it across the organization—that employee wellness is a top priority. Happy staff with the right physical and mental healthcare supports will also be more productive and will be less inclined to seek new employment elsewhere. Finding out what matters most to them means constantly asking questions about their lives, their priorities and challenges—and how your organization can help alleviate burdens they may face.

Discovering those answers is an ongoing process, but it’s one that can help ensure that your group benefits package never gets stale, or compromises the potential for organizational growth and success.

The Bridgewell Team

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