The 5 key trends shaping the future of employee benefits

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The 5 key trends shaping the future of employee benefits

Employees are working to a greater age, while their attitudes, outlooks and expectations are changing. Employers are having to adapt and respond, or they risk failing to attract and retain top talent – all the while ensuring new benefits initiatives align with demanding corporate objectives and budgets.

Against this ever-evolving backdrop, the importance of modernising benefits programmes cannot be underestimated.

Willis Towers Watson is committed to working with futurists, technology disruptors, insurers and health tech innovators alike to ensure clients are aware of emerging developments.

Here we look at the top 5 motivators that will transform employee benefits next year and beyond.

1. An ageing workforce

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people aged over 70 who are still working has doubled over the past decade. In the first quarter of the year, the number hit a peak of 497,946 – an increase of 135 per cent since 2009.

As the proportion of employees staying in work beyond state pension age increases, businesses will undoubtedly benefit from the invaluable skills and experience this older workforce contributes. But they must also rise to the challenge of this new demographic as the health and wellbeing requirements of older employees may differ notably from those of their younger colleagues.

Business leaders and HR practitioners must therefore take steps to maximise the productivity and potential of older workers – and avoid business-debilitating allegations of age discrimination. By ensuring these age-sensitive needs are adequately met, organisations can harness the invaluable contribution of their mature talent pool.

Providers who respond by innovating to bring new products to market that will engage and make a real difference to older workers’ lives will most certainly flourish.

Greater investments are likely to be made in proactive health and wellbeing education and intervention. A more flexible approach to work-life balance will also top the agenda for companies employing older workers along with the needs of  the ‘squeezed middle’ that is facing burgeoning child and elder care responsibilities.

With many now looking to retire on defined contribution (DC) pension schemes, the demand for meaningful initiatives that offer financial advice and guidance is also set to dominate employee schemes.

2. Chronic disease management

Older workers are at a higher risk of suffering from cancer and chronic conditions, such diabetes or high blood pressure.

In response to this, the Willis Towers Watson Benefits Trends Survey revealed that chronic disease management was among the top three health and wellbeing benefit areas that employers earmarked for improvement.

Some treatments and support to help stabilise long-term conditions are available to employees from benefits such cash plans, medical insurance and employee assistance programmes (EAPs).

However, there are still clear gaps in available cover. Historically, treatments for acute conditions have dominated PMI schemes but insurers are finding ways to support those with longer-term illnesses.

Further consideration should be given over the coming years to healthcare schemes and products that help tackle such conditions, that prioritise proactive rather than reactive care, and that offer medical, physical, psychological and emotional support to employees affected.

3. Workplace mental health

Efforts to raise awareness of workplace mental health have catapulted this issue up the corporate agenda in recent times.

Given the scale and far-reaching impact of mental ill-health on productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover, this should come as no surprise. The latest Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) revealed that almost one in three (29%) UK employees had suffered with severe stress, anxiety or depression in the previous two years.

Forty-six per cent of workers who were highly-stressed said that they would be prepared to leave their employer – more than double the figure amongst those with low levels of stress (19 per cent). Moreover, 54 per cent of highly stressed respondents aged over 50 reported that they would retire early if they could.

Although the Benefits Trends Survey revealed that half of all employers were taking steps to reduce work-related stress, this still leaves a significant number that were failing to address the issue. We anticipate the number of businesses introducing mental wellbeing initiatives to rise in our 2019 survey findings.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which are often considered a first port of call for employers looking to protect and support the mental wellbeing of staff, will continue to play an integral role.

Over the next few years, however, we are likely to see further improvements in access and the number of meaningful clinical services that are offered rise. The cost of EAPs may increase as a result, but so will their adoption and usage.

Elsewhere, investments in initiative such as resilience training and stress management programmes are sure to continue gaining traction.

4. On-demand benefits

Millennials and Generation Z are used to 24/7 access to anything, anywhere, any time.  They embrace mobile tech, subscription and on-demand services as the everyday, cultural norm.

This omnipresent trend is being adopted by the modern workplace as flexibility and convenience are increasingly at the fore of solutions delivered by benefits providers.

As such, in recent times we have seen a surge in the use of healthcare technologies such as wearables, remote diagnostics, genetic testing and apps that promote physical and mental wellbeing.

The emergence of telemedicine services is enabling employees to receive swift diagnosis and treatment plans at a time and place that suits their home and work demands.

5. Tech-led benefits experience

We are starting to see a clear trend towards a consumer-style tech experience in the delivery of employee benefits. This will accelerate as time-demands and expectations from employees become ever greater.

From an employer perspective, this aspiration must be married with the desire to maximise value, while, at the same time, keeping a tight control on administrative or technical complexity and costs.

Forward-thinking employers need to keep a close eye on how their benefits and total reward strategies are designed, financed and delivered to ensure they keep pace with emerging developments.

Get it right and businesses will see heightened benefits engagement, improved employee satisfaction, a boost to recruitment and retention and increased levels of workforce productivity.