There’s a “noteworthy” gap between how plan sponsors view benefit plans and employees’ perspectives on them, according to a member of the advisory board for the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.

While 35 per cent of employees aged 55 to 64 see their benefits as extra compensation, only 21 per cent of sponsors feel similarly, the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey found.

The views of plan members aged 18-34 tended to reflect a close division between seeing their plans as health resources (40 per cent), and extra compensation (30 per cent). Regardless of age, the findings contrast with the views of plan sponsors that see their benefit plans as primarily something to use only when sick or in need (54 per cent) rather than extra compensation (21 per cent).

Read: Employers urged to embrace design changes to control drug costs

“The gaps are actually quite noteworthy. If you as a plan sponsor don’t appreciate how many people think of benefits as compensation and you make plan design changes that put more emphasis on insurance, asking members to pay for more budgetable expenses like basic dental or vision care, you may create more challenges than anticipated,” said Lisa Callaghan, assistant vice-president of product and group benefits at Manulife and a member of the advisory team.

The annual Sanofi survey, released at an event in Toronto today, found employers tended to prioritize maintaining productivity (64 per cent) and keeping employees satisfied (60 per cent) as much as they prioritized attraction and retention (60 per cent) as the main goals of their health benefits plans.

The survey also highlighted disparities when it comes to chronic disease. While 59 per cent of employees have at least one chronic condition — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression are the most common — plan sponsors think just 32 per cent do.

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“Plan sponsors are unaware of the burden of chronic illness in their workplace, which again points to the need to better articulate and measure our objectives or health benefits plans,” said Barbara Martinez, practice leader of drug benefits solutions at Great-West Life Assurance Co. and an advisory board member for the survey, at an event in Toronto this morning to discuss the report.

Read: How to deal with diabetes in the workplace

“From the perspective of chronic disease, it can certainly reduce productivity in the work environment. . . . There certainly is a correlation between ability to manage chronic disease and satisfaction in the job,” said Callaghan at this morning’s event.

In terms of psychological health, the survey found many plan sponsors inaccurately perceive their workforces. While 67 per cent of employee respondents felt their workload was reasonable, 81 per cent of employer respondents thought so.

When it comes to what benefits plan members value, there was also a gap between what employers planned on providing, with a large number (38 per cent) stating they wanted to address wellness through human resources policies, while 41 per cent of employees would be most likely to take advantage of more flexible working environments.

Read: Study to explore how to support the mental health of health-care employees

“Often, employers think that if policies and procedures are in place, then they’ve done what they need to do, when in fact they have to make sure those policies are understood and put into action,” said Carol Craig, director of human resources, benefits and pensions at Telus and one of the survey’s advisory board members.

In fact, the Sanofi survey found employees aren’t always aware of the benefits their employer is providing. Only a quarter (26 per cent) of dissatisfied employees were aware of their workplace’s health benefits plan, with that number rising to 38 per cent for satisfied employees.

Advisory board member Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell, stresses the importance of communicating to plan members. “Improved communications can as much as double utilization and 20 per cent is good for ROI,” said Allen. “That’s still less than two per cent of overall benefit costs, yet at that level we can really see reduced claims in other areas.”

Read more detailed stories from the survey:

Sanofi survey finds low employer satisfaction with benefits for vision, major dental care

Are benefits plans a health resource or compensation?

What are employees’ favourite health benefits?

Many employers unaware of ways to cut benefit costs: Sanofi survey

How psychologically healthy are your employees?

Is massage therapy a worthwhile benefit?

Plan sponsors underestimate prevalence of chronic disease: Sanofi survey

Sanofi survey finds low awareness of benefit plans

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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