WEDNESDAY WORKFACT: 5 Big Benefits Trends Going into 2018

by Stephen Miller, CEBS for SHRM Online

From the failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, to concern that tax reform will alter key employee benefits, what happened in the nation’s capital  commanded much attention this year. But so, too, did the private sector, which provided benefits to meet a wider range of employee needs and helped employees rebalance the work/life equation in their favor.

Here’s a look back at some key benefits trends highlighted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Online during 2017 that will have continuing impact in 2018.

Financial Wellness Programs Get Taken Seriously

In January 2017  we reported that “This year, employers are likely to focus on the financial well-being of workers in a way that extends beyond retirement, such as help with managing student loan debt, day-to-day budgeting and even physical and emotional well-being.”

By June, that proved to be a true assessment when we reported that employers had sharply increased financial well-being benefits in 2017, and that nearly half (49 percent) of employers were offering some type of financial advice ”such as providing online assessment and advice tools, group instruction and one-on-one advice with a financial counselor ”up from 36 percent last year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits survey.

As the year wound down, we showed how financial wellness can boost productivity and highlighted the advantages of taking a team approach to promote financial wellbeing.

Gig Economy Is Transforming Benefits

Workers’ ability to create a personalized benefit package ”with greater flexibility to alter their selections outside of an annual open enrollment period ”is coming, corporate benefit leaders predict, and the growing number of those working on a gig or on-demand basis is a big reason why.

More employers are using voluntary benefits to attract and keep part-time and gig workers, we reported. Although these contingent employees may not have the same access to a full suite of core benefits, voluntary benefits can allow them to take advantage of special pricing and underwriting concessions offered to other employees, and they can pay for these benefits on a payroll or direct-bill basis. Gig workers can also be awarded bonuses for hitting key milestones and contributing to team goals.

“So many of our laws presuppose a traditional employer-employee relationship,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. At some point the economy changes, he added, noting that “we need to ask if those laws are still right for the modern economy.”

New Twists to Paid Leave

Trend-setting U.S. corporations have significantly increased their paid time off benefits for new parents ”or even grandparents ”following the arrival of a new child, which was just the latest evidence that paid family leave is becoming a new standard for employers. We also looked at the repercussions of giving unequal parental leave for new dads, and found signs that caregiving benefits are growing in importance as employers see opportunities to help workers take care of others.

Learning to Live with ACA Compliance

Like many others, we assumed that the new Trump administration and GOP-led Congress would make good on their pledge to repeal and replace the ACA. That seemed to be likely when, in May, the U.S. House passed a bill that would have done so. But come September, Senate GOP leaders announced they lacked sufficient votes to pass their own measure, keeping in place the ACA’s employer coverage and reporting obligations for the foreseeable future. We reminded employers subject to the ACA to prepare for early 2018 reporting on health coverage, keeping in mind that not every aspect of Form 1095-C can be outsourced

Coping with Rising Health Care Costs

At the start of the year, we called attention to how rising deductibles were blurring the line between traditional and high-deductible health plans. In the fall, we noted that health premiums were expected to rise 5.5 percent next year, which was driving cost management steps such as providing employees with incentives to spend wisely through health savings accounts, and prodding employers to manage surging specialty pharmacy costs. As the year ended, we noted that the cost-shifting trend was continuing, with workers paying more of rising health care costs.