Despite competing priorities, one third of HR professionals in the U.S. (32 percent) have increased the time they spend educating employees about workplace benefits, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's latest Workplace Benefits Report, based on an August 2013 nationwide survey of more than 1,000 companies of all sizes. The final sample was weighted back to representative proportions based on size.
Over the past two years, HR practitioners have spent significantly more time on activities related to their health care plans (61 percent of respondents), their company’s 401(k) plan (38 percent), recruitment and layoffs (32 percent), and other compensation and employee-benefit-related issues (22 percent). The larger the company, the more likely it was that the HR professional put more time into these areas.
To help improve the financial well-being and peace of mind of their employees, many companies now offer various forms of education on saving for retirement (70 percent) and, to a lesser extent, planning for health care costs (38 percent), as well as debt management and budgeting (15 percent).
Evolving Role of HR Professionals
The challenging economic, regulatory and public-policy environment has also caused those in the HR field to review their workplace benefits. The survey found that:
- 73 percent of HR professionals have to develop greater expertise on retirement and health care-related topics in order to do their job effectively.
- 81 percent believe they are at least somewhat responsible for their employees’ financial well-being.
- Most believe that employees' overall financial well-being leads them to be more satisfied (76 percent), loyal (66 percent), engaged (65 percent) and productive (55 percent).
“As companies consider ways to optimize employee performance and retention, effective workplace benefits that encourage healthy financial behaviors should be near the top of the list,” said Steve Ulian, head of institutional relationship management at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
An area many employers agree they need to focus on more is educating employees on the rising cost of health care. The study found that more than one-third of employers (35 percent) provide workers with education about what health care could cost them during retirement, up from 21 percent in 2012.
Among employers who provide at least some education about retiree health care costs, nearly half (45 percent) believe that more needs to be done in this area.
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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