Predicting or forecasting about uncertain events isn’t based on extrasensory perception or an informed guess. And it’s usually not a scientific explanation. Most of the time, predicting trends is based on experience or knowledge. In the case of employee benefits, it’s more about understanding the industry and what the players in the industry — including the workforce, employers, brokers and providers — are saying and doing.
Today’s diverse workforce, coupled with employees’ desire to choose benefits that are important to them, means that companies are recognizing the role that nontraditional benefits can play in distinguishing their employee benefits package. There’s no doubt that traditional voluntary benefits that supplement core benefits are important. However, with a workforce dominated by millennials — who clearly want it ‘their way’ — the availability of nontraditional benefits provide a way for employers to engage employees in all generations. In broaden the horizons of wellness, employers need to focus plans not only on the physical and nutritional aspects, but also to expand into mental soundness and financial stability.
Craig Schmidt, senior wellness consultant at EPIC, has seen a strong focus around three main areas: mindfulness, stress and financial wellness.
“This is a different trend than what has been done in the past with regard to traditional wellness programs where the industry would identify a chronic disease risk and focus their efforts solely on nutrition, activity and … avoiding a chronic condition, instead of living a healthy lifestyle and improving healthy behaviors,” Schmidt says.
This year, wellness consultants maintained a growing focus on financial wellbeing. Some approached these programs by offering debt assistance programs, many directed toward assisting with student loan debt. This approach not only helps the employee with paying off a loan that could very well last decades, but it also increases retention of millennial employees who have been known not to stay with a single company for long periods of time.
Financial wellness and college debt “is a growing concern and employers want to assist and help employees be better fiscally, but at this time its uncharted territory that we don’t know what the results of the programs are or what employees are looking for on an individual basis,” Schmidt says.
Expanding mental wellness
In an attempt to break the stereotypes and stigmas around mental health, many wellness consultants are making a push to encourage the use of mental and social assistance programs like EAPs, in the workplace. Emily Noll, national director of wellness solutions at CBIZ, says more employers are seeking mindfulness and resiliency programs on a regular basis to reduce stress and improve employee engagement.
“CEOs and CFOs are paying attention to the data on the benefits of meditation practice, yoga and other techniques that yield better focus, more creativity and make their employees better equipped to solve problems and avoid workplace conflict,” Noll says. “One HR director told me that when she boarded the train to head home in the evenings she would doze off, but after participating in a weekly at-work mindfulness program, she felt more energized during her work day and was alert even on her commute home.”
Looking ahead to 2017
When Schmidt looks ahead to the coming year, he predicts there will be more focus on mental, emotional and mindfulness in the workplace. “I see there being a focus on engaging employees in their work, and mindfulness will play a large role,” Schmidt says.
On top of an increased awareness of mental and emotional need, Schmidt says there will be more attention on corporate culture, with companies focusing on creating an environment where employees want to be at work.
“Millennials are known to be the job hoppers and millennials now make up a large portion of the workforce. Retention of these employees is going to be an important focus in the battle for talent,” he says. “Wellness will be a difference-maker to this group, as worth, value and well-being is an important focus for millennials.”
Noll agrees with Schmidt’s prediction of an emphasis on corporate culture, saying companies will need to provide more training for leaders and managers on how to improve culture, well-being and engagement. “Managers have a significant influence on their employees and developing high performing teams — team members need to be well to perform at their best,” Noll says.
Are you ready for 2017??