May 25, 2024

Benefit Changes Coming

biz & tech icon

By Sheila Gibbons Hiebert
Communication Research Associates, Inc.

biz & tech logoHuman capital is the core component of organizational life, but in a turbulent economy, with expectations shifting among employees and their employers, creating a benefits package to ensure that the right people can be recruited and kept on the job is no easy task.

The Human Resource Association of Southern Maryland  set out to reduce the guesswork. In June, the organization provided its members with an analysis of benefits offered by companies in the region, based on members of the association who completed a detailed survey. The goal: to benchmark themselves against one another and national data; and to better understand how to remain competitive in hiring and retaining the best work force possible. The survey was a repeat of a similar data-collection effort by HRASM last year.

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HRASM offers networking and career intelligence for fulltime HR executives as well as for members who may combine HR with other operational assignments. About 40 percent of HRASM’s members represent the defense community with another 15 percent in health care; 10 percent in finance, insurance and real estate; and the balance in other businesses, such as utilities and construction.

There were two main takeaways from this year’s survey results, said Laurell Aiton, vice president/human resources and corporate relations for Smartronix in Hollywood, who chaired HRASM’s survey committee: A clear trend by employers favoring a consumer-driven medical model for employee health care and the need for employers to recognize the heightened value that 401(k) plans represent to their workers.

Under the consumer-driven medical model, employees pay the full cost of their medical care until they reach the employer’s established deductible. After that, a percentage of the cost of care is covered – the industry standard is 80%, although it’s higher in some plans — with the employee responsible for the balance. The idea is to give the employee more responsibility for choosing, and budgeting for, health care services.

“People spend more time researching what TV or car to buy, but when it comes to deciding how to go to the doctor and how to pay for it, they give little thought to the cost because someone else is paying it,” Aiton says.

Along with increasing implementation of this medical model, Aiton predicts employers will make a huge push for wellness programs that engage employees directly in the maintenance of their health.

The 2012 HRASM survey also indicates that “401(k) plans are a benefit employers need to continue to pay attention to,” Aiton says. “Even though, because of the economy, some have stepped away from making a match, it’s back to an expectation for employees,” who in this region often have the education and expertise that make them attractive to competitors elsewhere.

Aiton notes that the HRASM survey results track right along with employer-sponsored benefit patterns seen by HR organizations in the national capital area and nationally. Here in Southern Maryland, “Employers need to be on their game with benefits,” Aiton says, which includes “paying a large portion of the cost of benefits, because our employees have options and can go where they want. Even though we’re not in a metro area, it doesn’t mean we can offer them anything less.”

Employer-sponsored benefits are a key part of a larger discussion about employee satisfaction and loyalty. Human resource experts worldwide say the work place is at a critical stage when employers everywhere are trying to understand what keeps employees engaged and productive. A survey released in the fall of 2011 of nearly 30,000 workers worldwide by Mercer, a global HR consulting firm, found that nearly one in three (32 percent) U.S. workers is seriously considering leaving his or her organization. Another 21 percent are undecided about leaving but view their employers unfavorably and have rock-bottom scores on key measures of engagement, Mercer says.

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