Weekly Wrap: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Benefits (We Think)

I was pretty busy this week at SHRM’s big Annual Conference & Exhibition in Atlanta, so I wasn’t able to write about every single thing that I wanted to.

Here’s one I missed but that is pretty important: the results of SHRM’s 2012 Employee Benefits Survey.

I’m not sure that there is anything terribly startling in these survey findings, but given this week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), and the general concern about the ever-rising cost of benefits everywhere, any insight into benefits strategy and trends is pretty valuable for HR professionals.

Spending on benefits remains stable

This is a detailed survey, so you need to get a copy if you really want to dig into it (here’s the executive summary, if you want the essentials). Here are a few of the highlights worth noting:

  • Employer spending on benefits remained stable this year with organizations spending, on average, 19 percent of an employee’s annual salary on voluntary benefits, 18 percent on mandatory benefits, and 10 percent on pay for time employees did not work.
  • Benefits that reward employees for improving their health have jumped again, as they have for the past five years, a pretty clear sign that organizations are looking for ways to cut business costs;
  • The percentage of employers offering health and lifestyle coaching jumped from 33 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2012, and rewards or bonuses for completing a health and wellness program increased from 23 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2012.
  • While most employee benefits stabilized this year, 73 percent of HR pros say the economic downtown negatively impacted employee benefit offerings (11 percent to a large extent and 62 percent to some extent). This is about the same as in 2011, when 77 percent said the economy negatively affected benefits to some or a large extent.
  • The five most common benefits in 2012 are: paid holidays (97 percent); prescription drug program coverage (97 percent); dental insurance (96 percent); defined contribution retirement savings plans (92 percent); and mail-order prescription programs (91 percent).
  • Paid time off (PTO) plans have become more popular, with more than half of organizations (51 percent) provide paid time off plans, a combination of traditional vacation time, sick leave and personal days in one plan, up from 42 percent in 2009.
  • Domestic partner benefits are more of a focus, with a third of employers (35 percent) offer health care coverage to same-sex domestic partners, and 32 percent offer it to opposite-sex domestic partners. Some 15 percent provide domestic partner benefits (not including health care coverage) for opposite-sex partners, and the same percent offer the benefit to same-sex partners.
  • Health care premium discounts for healthier behavior are on the rise. Health care premiums discounts for getting annual health risk assessments rose from 11 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012, while discounts for not using tobacco products increased to 20 percent this year from 8 percent in 2008.
  • Pet insurance and pets at work, have a small toe hold with some employers. One in 20 (6 percent) of organizations offer pet health insurance, 5 percent allow pets at work, 1 percent pay for pet care expenses while an employee is traveling for business, and 1 percent have a “Take Your Pet to Work” day.

Looking for ways to manage costs

“Employers recognize that providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health can increase morale, confidence and productivity,” said Mark J. Schmit, vice president of research at SHRM, in a press release about the survey findings.

He added: “Organizations continue to look for ways to manage costs as the economy slowly improves. Benefits that encourage healthier behavior are a cost effective way to keep up employee morale, while healthier employees also help decrease health care costs to employers and employees.”

How it was conducted: A sample of HR professionals was randomly selected from SHRM’s membership database, which included approximately 250,000 individual members at the time the survey was conducted. Only members who had not participated in a SHRM survey or poll in the last four months were included in the sampling frame. Members who were students, located internationally or had no e-mail address on file were excluded from the sampling frame.

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In January 2012, an e-mail that included a hyperlink to the Employee Benefits Survey was sent to 3,500 randomly selected SHRM members. Of these, approximately 3,200 e-mails were successfully delivered to respondents, and 550 HR professionals responded, yielding a response rate of 17 percent. The sample of HR professionals was generally representative of the SHRM membership population.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure that there is anything really startling from these survey findings, although they do serve as a good baseline to benchmark your own organization’s benefits spending from. Given that Obamacare is now clear for takeoff, I think that benefits spending is going to be an even bigger focus for American companies than it was before, if that’s possible — and I think it will be moving ahead.

Age 55 plus workers are landing the jobs

Of course, there’s a lot more going on this week than what the Supreme Court is doing and health care surveys. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Selling pay cuts to unionized government workers. Here’s one of the tougher jobs in California (and lord knows there are a lot of those) — selling pay cuts to unionized, government workers. As the Sacramento Bee reports, “The toughest sales job in California over the next few weeks belongs to a former Marine who will have to explain to tens of thousands of state workers why they should accept yet another pay cut. Eventually it will fall to SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker to persuade the voting members of the 93,000-employee union to swallow a 5 percent reduction in their wages to help balance California’s wobbly budget.”
  • Arrested because of a job interview. An Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  says that, “An eastern Missouri man’s honesty during a job interview with the state Highway Patrol got him arrested when, according to the interviewer, he acknowledged inappropriately touching a child.”
  • Workers age 55 plus are landing lion’s share of jobs. According to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times,“Even though many older Americans are still struggling with long-term joblessness, workers age 55 and older accounted for nearly 70 percent of those who’ve landed jobs since Jan. 1, 2010, according to an analysis of national Labor Department data by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.”
  • Kronos Time Well Spent cartoon. Kronos, the company that probably makes your organization’s time-and-attendance systems, publishes a regular Time Well Spent workplace cartoon by Tom Fishburne. I post them here from time to time in the Weekly Wrap.


  • John Cleese on Creativity —

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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