Canadian employers embracing customization of benefits plans

While 72 per cent of Canadian employers said they expect to differentiate their benefits programs for recruitment and retention in the next three years, just 12 per cent currently do so, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

It found 60 per cent of employers now offer flexible benefits, and this is set to rise to 78 per cent by 2020. By then, almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of respondents said they expect their employees will be customizing which benefits and options to purchase using their employer-provided benefits dollars, up from 43 per cent today.

“Plan sponsors are quickly realizing the power in using their health and well-being strategies to differentiate themselves from competitors,” said Wendy Poirier, managing director and health innovation leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a press release. “They’re taking steps to gain this competitive advantage by integrating physical and emotional health, and social and financial well-being programs into their total rewards programs, while clearly recognizing the value of benefits to meet their talent and prospects’ evolving needs.”

Read: Flipping the conversation about benefits 

The survey also found just 29 per cent of respondents have a company-wide mental-health strategy, though 85 per cent said they expect to have an action plan in place in 2020. As well, survey respondents said they expect to monitor workforce stress and its causes (66 per cent up from 27 per cent) and offer training and coaching to managers, specifically to identify emotional health issues, stress and life events that affect work performance (77 per cent up from 32 per cent). More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of respondents said they plan to include well-being as part of their organization’s corporate social responsibility strategy and mission.

“Another important development is the emergence of a continuum of solutions to support emotional well-being,” said Poirier. “There are a number of tools and technologies that provide solutions for measuring stress in the workplace, developing resiliency, educating and training managers and employees, providing virtual counselling access to clinicians for cognitive behavioural therapy and providing enhanced medical management of mental-health issues. This means employers now have options to bridge gaps that have traditionally existed between support, prevention and treatment, enabling a truly holistic approach.”

The survey also found employee engagement in well-being remains a challenge, though that’s evolving as 31 per cent of respondents said they’re willing to launch technology pilots to support health and well-being programs. And nearly 80 per cent of respondents said they’ll offer access to online wellness platforms or apps by 2020.

Read: 2017 Group Benefits Providers Report: Insurers playing a role amid rising emphasis on mental health 

“The findings show that the overwhelming majority of plan sponsors are re-evaluating their programs with an eye towards design effectiveness and value for money, as they look to enhance their employee’s physical, emotional, financial and social well-being between now and 2020,” said Poirier.

As well, 41 per cent of survey respondents said they plan to make workforce perks, such as child-care services, time off for volunteering, onsite conveniences or concierge services, a core part of their employee value proposition in the coming years, compared to 21 per cent today.

As well, along with offering more compelling benefits, employers are looking to provide more flexibility and decision-making support to enhance their plan members’ experience. “Personalization and informed choice are key,” said Dawn Noordam, senior director of health and benefits consulting and leader of Willis Towers Watson’s Benefits Marketplace Canada.

“We know from the survey findings that the majority of plan sponsors intend to increase the variety of benefits they offer and want to place more of a spotlight on voluntary benefits and workforce perks, while also helping employees to make the best choices suited to their individual needs.”

Read: Voluntary benefits an emerging option for employers