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Outlook 2010: Do More with Less

This is part of a special advertising section on the challenges facing HR executives in the coming year.

Friday, October 2, 2009
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A major business challenge for organizations in 2010 is to "do more with less." Companies will need to meet the dual goals of controlling costs in the short term, while still offering a robust benefits program so they can retain talented employees and sustain their competitive advantage when the economy picks up. While this presents a difficult challenge, it also offers an opportunity for HR executives to reorient the benefits discussion for senior management and show that benefits should not simply be considered a necessary business cost, but rather an investment for sustainable business success.

According to MetLife's 7th Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study, employee retention remains the most important benefits objective for U.S. companies in this economy. However, economic conditions emphasize the need for employers to simultaneously control costs, while increasing employee productivity.

Balancing these objectives can prove difficult for HR managers, especially at a time when benefits have become a strong driver of employee loyalty and satisfaction. In order to successfully meet the challenge of doing more with less in 2010, there are three practices that can help companies maximize the return on investment of their benefits programs: offering a broad range of benefits, complementing healthcare with disease prevention and wellness programs, and educating employees about benefits options.

Offer a Broad Range of Benefits

According to MetLife research, 41 percent of workers overall, and more than half (55 percent) of those at larger employers, consider their workplace benefits to be the foundation of their financial safety net. Perhaps that's why 95 percent of workers believe it's important for employers to continue offering benefits even if employees must pay for most (or all) of the cost.

Considering that half (51 percent) of employees now purchase the majority of their household's financial and retirement products through the workplace, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) of employees say that non-health benefits play a strong role in workplace loyalty, the link between financial security and the workplace is strong.

Offering voluntary benefits such as supplemental life products, long-term care insurance and legal services plans, to name a few, is a smart way for employers to offer their employees the benefits they desire at little cost to the company.

Disease Prevention and Wellness Programs

Healthcare affordability concerns continue to be top-of-mind for both employers and employees. Employees are cognizant of the direct impact their health has on their ability to work: 59 percent of employees are worried about having appropriate health insurance and 68 percent are concerned about having enough money to pay bills in the event of sudden income loss.

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Complementing healthcare coverage with disease prevention and wellness programs can help alleviate these concerns for employees. In fact, the top reason to participate in a wellness program is "I want good health." 

Not only can wellness programs provide employees with a means of improving their health, but they can be a cost-saving measure for employers. According to MetLife's study, two-thirds of employers think that these types of programs are at least fairly effective in reducing medical costs and another nearly one-third (30 percent) believe they are very effective.

Educate Employees About Benefits

MetLife research indicates that companies may be missing one key opportunity to maximize the return on investment of their benefits plans -- educating employees on their benefits options. Only about one-third (36 percent) of workers report that their company's benefit communications effectively educate them on their benefits options, so they can select those that best meet their needs and optimize their benefits spend.

Furthermore, 44 percent of employees are interested in having their employer provide them with access to benefits advisers to help them make decisions. This suggests that employees want more information about their options, so they can make the best decisions for themselves and/or loved ones. Providing more education on benefits offered to employees can help engage employees and ensure that employers are maximizing the value of the strategic investment they make in their benefits programs.

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