Group Benefits

For Benefits, A Brave New Workplace

Adapting to the evolution of employment

by Randy Stram

Mr. Stram is SVP of National Accounts in Group Benefits at MetLife. Visit www.metlife.com

Employees’ expectations of the workplace are changing. Work is no longer about sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 and taking home a paycheck. Today’s workers are demanding that employers not only compensate them for their time and efforts, but meet their holistic wellness needs.

On a deeper level, employees are looking to connect with their employers and find purpose in what they do.

Employers that embrace new workplace realities – like four generations working side by side, new definitions of family and the rise of single women as a demographic – and meet the needs of the whole employee will see a more loyal, engaged and productive workers.

Engaging today’s diverse workforce may not be as difficult as it may seem. Start by understanding the underlying drivers of change in the workplace and executing four key strategies to adapt.

What’s driving workplace change?

The rise of the “gig” or freelance economy is one of the strongest contributors to employees’ changing workplace wants and needs. According to MetLife’s 15th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), the majority of employees today are interested in gig work, and a recent study from CareerBuilder shows that nearly a third of workers already have side gigs in addition to their full time jobs.

Growth in the gig economy is not expected to slow anytime soon. Research from Intuit shows that the freelance market is expected to double in the next four years, expanding to include 43 percent of the U.S. workforce. Not surprisingly, this is causing employers to think critically about retaining talent. In fact, MetLife’s EBTS showed that employers’ number one benefits objective is retaining employees.

As you look deeper into the reasons why employees are pursuing gig work, there are two primary drivers: flexibility and variety. Today’s workers are looking for workplaces (and ways to work) that meet their personal needs. They don’t necessarily think that offices are where work is done, and they want to continue to grow as professionals by taking on new challenges.

But it’s not all about working from home and getting new projects

On the list of personal needs employees expect their employers to meet, financial security for the employee and his or her family continues to be critically important. Nearly ¾ of employees say their employers have a responsibility for their health and wellbeing, and a growing number – 65% – say their employers have a responsibility for their financial wellbeing, according to MetLife’s EBTS.

This may be because employees are financially stressed overall. MetLife’s study showed that only a little more than a third of employees feel in control of their finances, down from 44% last year. EBTS also showed that more than a third of employees say they live paycheck to paycheck, and 30% say they lay awake at night worrying about money.

Four Strategies to Adapt

It may seem overwhelming to think about how your traditional workplace can compete with the draw of freelance work, or how you as an employer can help your employees find the financial stability they’re seeking, all while staying focused on business goals.

But think of the reward you will receive if you can help employees reduce financial stress and make it easier to manage work and life. Your employees will feel supported and valued. Because of that, they’ll also feel loyal to you and want to help your business meet its goals.

Here are four strategies you can use to drive engagement and loyalty in today’s workplace:

Leverage Benefits as a Differentiator
As employees become more interested in non-traditional ways of working, there is something traditional that they continue to value: their benefits.

When employees are able to customize their benefits selections to meet their personal needs, it outweighs perks often found in gig roles like working from home. According to MetLife’s EBTS, nearly three-fourths of employees say benefits customization is important for increasing their loyalty to their employers, compared to 66% of employees who say having the ability to work from home or remote locations increases their loyalty.

To give employees the ability to make benefits selections that meet their personal needs, employers need to have an array of voluntary products available. With the rapid growth of voluntary offerings like supplemental health products and group legal services plans, it’s likely that you already do. If you haven’t gotten there yet, the first step is talking to your carrier, broker or adviser and getting a robust offering in place.

Broadening your definition of benefits to include financial wellness programs and being an early adopter in helping employees address the financial concerns is a prime way to remain a benefits leader and an employer of choice

It shouldn’t put a strain on your bottom line to provide choice for employees. Most voluntary products are fully paid by employees, and today’s workers are willing to pay. According to MetLife’s EBTS, 52% of employees are willing to bear more of the cost of their benefits in order to have choices that meet their needs.

Broaden Your Definition of Benefits
Offering medical insurance alone is not enough to engage today’s workforce. And actually, medical insurance plus voluntary benefits may soon not be enough to provide the support employees are looking for.

As financial concerns continue to weigh on employees, wellness benefits like financial wellness and planning programs are becoming more important. This is a key area where employers can diffentiate themselves to engage and keep their talent. Less than one in five employers today are offering financial wellness programs for their employees, according to EBTS. At MetLife, we expect that number to climb rapidly.

Broadening your definition of benefits to include financial wellness programs and being an early adopter in helping employees address the financial concerns is a prime way to remain a benefits leader and an employer of choice.

Communicate Benefits Well
Communicating your benefit offerings to your employees is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to increasing perceived value. Employees can’t value what they don’t understand or know about.

To increase the effectiveness of your benefits communications, use the strategies found here, or consider engaging a benefits communications firm. MetLife’s 2017 enrollment research showed that a third of employers who partnered with a firm saw an increase in enrollment. Of those, a third saw increases of more than 20% on average in high-deductible health plans and voluntary and wellness benefits.

This tells us that not only did employees become more aware of the products offered; they actually participated at greater rates when they were better educated. Employers also felt more confident in their communications when they partnered with a firm. Four out of five employers who use firms feel they accomplished their goal around employees understanding costs of specific services, and three-quarters accomplished their goal of employees being confident in benefits selections, our research showed.

Honor Employees’ Deeper Motivations
If you have an array of benefits available to employees, are providing programs and opportunities for employees to plan for their financial futures, and are communicating both well, will you be able to keep your talent when another job offer comes through? You’ll be well positioned, but for greater certainty, engage a level deeper.

MetLife recently worked with The New York Times’ T-Brand Studios to produce a video series that examines employees’ motivations for work. In one of the videos, Courtney Martin, an author and expert in social theory and motivation, touched on this idea of engaging on a deeper level. Her comment was that when employers honor people’s deeper motivations for work, they can attract more talented people with a range of skills and networks, and those people bring all of those things to the organization.

To inspire people to bring all of these things and leverage them for the benefit of your organization, it’s critical to understand and recognize their deeper motivations.

When it comes to motivation, employees are driven by lots of personal things. For many, like an employee named Rachel Kessey, a GenX real estate agent who participated in the video series, her driver is her family and a desire to provide an example for her daughter.

Definitions of family are changing, and trends in family and family situations are something employers should be – and are – watching critically now and as they plan for the next five years.

More than 60 percent of employers say that over the next five years, the workplace will be impacted by the number of employees taking on a role of caregiver for aging parents, and 57 percent believe the rise of single women as a demographic will help shape the future workforce, MetLife’s EBTS showed.

The study also found that 58% of employees want customized benefit options based on their personal information.
This means as employers think about 2.0 benefits strategies, the ability for employees to personalize their selections to meet their unique needs will remain important.

Despite all of this change, one thing is sure to remain constant: that the workplace will continue to be redefined. And to attract, engage and retain top talent, employers will need to stay abreast of the latest thinking and trends. To do so, tap into your carrier partners. The latest from MetLife can be found at www.benefittrends.metlife.com.◊