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HR Needs to Communicate the Value of Benefits

To make the most of your benefits package, make sure workers understand what's available.

​Does your benefits package measure up? You might think so, but your workers probably don’t agree. That’s a problem for HR. However, as many high-tech companies have learned, it’s also an opportunity to better leverage benefits to attract and retain employees.

There’s a disconnect between how much workers value their benefits and how they perceive them, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The percentage of people who said benefits were key to their job satisfaction was higher than the percentage who were satisfied with their perks. This held true across nearly all offerings, including paid time off, health insurance, work flexibility, retirement  plans and wellness programs.

This discrepancy makes it critical for HR professionals to be aware of expected trends so they can design competitive packages. That’s not always easy. As a new SHRM survey shows, all too often, predictions don’t hold true. For example, many people thought employers would do away with health care coverage for domestic partners after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex married couples. But SHRM’s 2016 Strategic Benefits Series survey report found that 94 percent of organizations plan to continue offering coverage to domestic partners.

Similarly, the notion that companies would subsidize health insurance through a private or public exchange (in lieu of providing employer-based health care) following enactment of the Affordable Care Act was also overstated. In fact, only 2 percent of organizations plan to offer subsidies for that purpose over the next three years. And only 20 percent of HR professionals say their employees will be paying more than half of their total health care costs in the next three to five years. That’s down 15 percentage points (from 35 percent) since 2013.

To be sure, big-picture trends are important, but HR professionals must also stay up-to-date on the newest offerings. In recent years, the media has reported on many innovative benefits from tech companies. SHRM’s new survey results confirm that these businesses do behave differently from organizations in other industries when it comes to building their benefits strategies.

For instance, tech companies are different when it comes to determining what to offer. They are significantly more likely to use comparisons of competitors’ benefits and employee surveys for that purpose. Only 9 percent use no formal methods to determine what workers want, compared with 20 percent of all other industries. This focus on providing the right mix of perks is likely due to the pressure these employers feel to attract highly skilled talent, whereas a primary strategic focus of other companies is to control health care costs, according to the survey report.

Regardless of the strategy behind your benefits selection, the effort will be wasted if employees don’t understand what’s available. Across industries, most HR professionals have doubts on that front. Only 14 percent think workers are very knowledgeable about their benefits. The survey shows that, to close this gap, HR uses several tools, including enrollment materials, e-mails, group presentations and one-on-one meetings. Given the importance of benefits to employee satisfaction and recruitment, effectively communicating their value remains a key, ongoing task for HR. Are you up to the challenge?

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.