SHRM Surveys Gauge Health Care Costs, Wellness and Flex Benefits

Employers are remodeling their health benefits to shift decision-making and cost accountability to employees. Additionally, workplace flex arrangements remain underused, according to SHRM member surveys on workplace benefits.

By SHRM Online staff Jan 23, 2013

In January 2013 the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released a series of State of Employee Benefits in the Workplace reports, based on surveys sent to SHRM members in 2012. SHRM Online previously reported on survey findings concerning the use of employer-sponsored benefits to recruit and retain employees and how employers communicate with their employees about workplace benefits (see "Spotlight on Benefits Used to Recruit, Retain Employees"). Below, we examine three remaining survey reports in this series.

Controlling Health Care Costs

The top three activities organizations have engaged in to control health care costs, as reported in State of Employee Benefits in the Workplace—Health Care, were:

  • Increasing the employee share contributed to the total costs of health care (52 percent of respondents).
  • Providing educational initiatives related to health and wellness (52 percent).
  • Providing lower-cost generic prescription or over-the-counter drugs (50 percent).

Almost half (47 percent) of organizations reported increasing the amount that employees must contribute to the total costs of health care in plan year 2012.

In 2013 nearly a quarter (22 percent) of organizations reported that they plan to increase the amount employees must contribute to the total costs of health care. Fifteen percent of employers surveyed who currently pay the majority or an equal portion of health care costs indicated that they believe that in the next three to five years their employees will be paying the majority of health care costs.

"Employers recognize the need to increase their cost-control efforts as health care costs continue to rise," said Shawn Fegley, SHRM survey research analyst. "Employers also are remodeling their benefits plans and giving employees greater responsibility to manage their benefits. This provides employers with an opportunity to shift decision-making and cost accountability while employees are provided with more flexibility on how to manage their health."

Measuring Wellness Efforts

Seven out of 10 organizations offered some type of wellness program, resource or service to their employees, according to State of Employee Benefits in the Workplace—Wellness Initiatives. Among these organizations:

  • 43 percent reported having increased their investment in employee-wellness initiatives in 2012 from 2011.
  • Almost half (45 percent) extended wellness initiatives to employees’ dependents. Nearly all (99 percent) of these organizations allowed spouses to participate in wellness initiatives, and 69 percent allowed dependent children to participate.

Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) that offered wellness initiatives conducted an analysis to determine the return on investment (ROI), and slightly more than one-fourth (28 percent) conducted an analysis to determine cost savings for their wellness initiatives.

Among all organizations offering wellness programs, including those that did not formally analyze ROI, a majority (86 percent) rated their initiatives as “very effective” or “somewhat effective” in improving their employees’ physical health, and more than two-thirds (68 percent) indicated they were “very effective” or “somewhat effective” in reducing health care costs.

"Benefits that inspire healthier behavior are increasingly being seen as a cost-effective method to reduce health care costs to both employers and employees while boosting employee morale," said Fegley.

Underused Workflex

According to findings in State of Employee Benefits in the Workplace—Flexible Work Arrangements, about half (53 percent) of organizations provided at least some of their employees with the option of flexible work arrangements, including full- or part-time telecommuting, flexible scheduling and compressed workweeks. But among those organizations, only about one-third (34 percent) reported that a majority of their employees were allowed to take advantage of these benefits.

Moreover, just over one-third (36 percent) reported that employee participation in flex arrangements had increased since 2010, 58 percent reported that participation had remained the same, and 6 percent reported that participation had declined. In considering these figures, however, note that 62 percent of HR professionals reported that their organizations did not monitor participation rates for the flexible work arrangements they offered.

Related Article:

Spotlight on Benefits Used to Recruit, Retain Employees, SHRM Online Benefits, January 2012

Quick Links:

Keep up with the latest news. Sign up for SHRM’s free Compensation & Benefits e-newsletter


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


The SHRM Member Discounts program provides member-only access to discounts on products and services you can apply to your life and career, and share with your company.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect