2015: Top Benefits Articles

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jan 7, 2016
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These five benefits articles from 2015 were some of the most-read all year on SHRM Online. They describe developments and trends that will have a continuing impact in 2016:

'Big Data' Can Improve value of Health and Savings Plans
Employers are making a major commitment to capturing and analyzing the vast amount of health and retirement data in their benefits plans. For health plans, they are crunching data on enrollment, demographics, medical and prescription claims, and aggregated patient information. That can then provide an opportunity for targeted messaging to workers to promote wellness and managing chronic diseases, for instance. Likewise, data on how retirement plans are being used can help plan sponsors improve participants’ decision-making around savings and investment selection.

Boosting Younger Workers’ Financial Fitness
According to 2015 research by the Society for Human Resource Management, less than 5 percent of employers offer company-provided student loan repayment benefits, but that number is sure to increase. Starting in July 2016, for instance, associates at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers will be eligible to receive as much as $1,200 a year for up to six years toward their student loans. A common denominator among organizations that do offer loan-repayment services is that they employ a large number of workers with college and graduate school degrees, many of them in the early stages of their careers.

2016 Health Costs Forecast to Rise 4.3% After Plan Changes
About half of U.S. employers intend to make health benefit changes in 2016 to hold down rising plan costs. The shift to high-deductible consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) linked to health savings accounts (HSAs) is gaining momentum, although most employees still opt for traditional plans when given a choice. That’s an indication of employee resistance to CDHPs—even when these plans have lower premiums and the employer generously funds employees’ HSAs. Employers need to communicate effectively when these plans may be an appropriate option.

Carving Out’ Spousal Benefits: Cost-Cutting, with Repercussions
If there are compelling financial reasons to exclude spousal health benefits from employer-provided health coverage, there are equally strong HR-related reasons to think twice before doing so. Spousal health coverage is often a valuable benefit to current and potential employees. If an employer eliminates spousal coverage, or imposes a surcharge or eliminates subsidies for that coverage, there could be backlash from employees.

Countering Stress That’s Making Employees Sick and Distraught
New research is highlighting how workplace stress and anxiety is making employees emotionally and physically ill, and not just at notorious pressure-cookers such as Amazon. Through-the-roof stress levels mean less productive and less engaged workers, topped off by higher medical claims, at all kinds of organizations. While it’s nearly impossible for employers to create a stress-free environment, providing positive feedback and reasonable policies on being away from the office—and helping employees to “build resilience”—can help everyone to better cope with tension and strain.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow me on Twitter.

Related SHRM Article

Benefit Trends to Watch in 2016—and Beyond, SHRM Online Benefits, October 2016

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