Flexible Work Options Can Boost Growth & Productivity

Flexible Work Options Can Boost Growth & Productivity

As the widening gap between jobs and workers qualified to fill them is undermining productivity and growth at U.S. companies of all sizes, adopting flexible work models can help employers attract talent, while improving employee engagement and productivity and boosting the U.S. economy, according to a study conducted by the Centre of Economics and Business Research (Cebr) with support from Citrix Systems.

The report’s findings are based on data from an online survey of 2,502 U.S. knowledge workers conducted in July. The aim of the study was to determine the potential value to the U.S. economy of a move toward a more flexible working culture by extrapolating the survey findings for each of the demographic groups represented in the sample to the U.S. knowledge worker population. The analysis showed that the total potential U.S. economic gains from a flexible working culture could amount to $2.36 trillion in gross value added (GVA) per annum, with 88% of the total potential boost to GVA coming from individuals who are currently unemployed or economically inactive rejoining the labor market, and the remainder contributed by productivity improvements among individuals currently in work.

The survey found that 69% of respondents who are currently unemployed or economically inactive because they are, for example, retired, full-time homemakers, or caregivers, indicated that they would be encouraged to start working if given the opportunity to work flexibly. The results also showed that 65% of respondents who reported that they currently work part-time said they would be inclined to work more hours if they could work remotely.

In addition, the findings indicated that if provided with the opportunity, 95% of the knowledge workers polled who are currently employed said they would like to work from home 2.4 days per week, on average. Moreover, between 60% and 70% of respondents said they would be willing to work from other locations, including local coffee shops and shared workspaces, one to 1.3 days per week, on average.

The survey also found that 86% of respondents who said they currently have the option to “work from anywhere” take advantage of this opportunity. Among current remote workers, 73% of respondents reported that flexible working improves their personal well-being and ability to balance work with outside activities, 69% said it improves their job satisfaction level, and 60% indicated that it facilitates their professional development (60%). Broken down by demographic group, working remotely was found to be most popular with respondents aged 16-55 who are currently working and have dependent children, with 92% of these respondents indicating they would use flexible working if the option was available.

When asked about the potential productivity benefits of working from home or from other remote locations, large majorities of all workers surveyed said they believe virtual/remote working would enable them to save money (72%), reduce their stress levels (70%), allow them to work at a pace or at hours that suit them (72%), make them more productive (71%), help them achieve better work/life balance (74%), enable them to get more work done as they would spend less time commuting (68%), and help them concentrate better because they would have fewer distractions (66%).

Employers Turn to Innovative Strategies to Limit Health Care Costs

Employers Turn to Innovative Strategies to Limit Health Care Costs

As the average total health benefit cost per employee increased 3.0% in 2019 to reach more than $13,046, following a rise of 3.6% in 2018, health benefit cost management remains imperative for companies, the results of an annual survey conducted by human resources consultancy Mercer indicated.

The survey findings were based on a national probability sample of public and private employers completed by 2,558 employers in the summer of 2019. According to researchers, although 2019 marks the eighth consecutive year of health benefit cost growth in the low single digits, and employers expect costs to rise at a similar pace next year, cost increases continue to outpace overall inflation.

When asked about their priorities for the next five years, 42% of the large and midsize employers (500+ employees) surveyed identified addressing healthcare affordability for low-paid employees as an important strategy. The survey found that in 2019, most large and midsize employers did not hold down premium costs by requiring members to pay more out-of-pocket for health services. For example, researchers noted, the average individual deductible in a preferred provider organization (PPO) grew just $10 in 2019, to $992. However, the survey also showed that the average deductible increased by more than $250 among small employers (10-499 employees).

The findings further indicated that in 2019 some larger employers that had offered a high-deductible plan with a health savings account (HSA) as the only medical plan changed strategies and added a traditional PPO or health maintenance organization (HMO) as an option. But the survey also found that enrollment in high-deductible account-based plans has been rising steadily, to 36% of all covered employees in 2019, up from 33% in 2018, 23% in 2014, and just 9% in 2009.

Researchers observed that as employers search for cost management strategies that do not shift cost to employees, many are turning to innovative tech-enabled programs that help employees manage chronic conditions or other health needs, such as musculoskeletal conditions, infertility, and insomnia. The survey indicated that in 2019, 58% of all large and midsize employers, and 78% of employers with 20,000 or more employees, offer one or more such targeted health solutions. The survey also found evidence of the growth in telemedicine, with 88% of large and midsize employers offering a telemedicine program to their members in 2019, up from 80% in 2018, and only 18% in 2014.

Moreover, the survey indicated that spending on all prescription drugs increased 5.5% in 2019 among large and midsize employers, down from 6.5% in 2018 and 8.0% in 2015. Researchers noted, however, that spending on specialty drugs rose 10.5% in 2019, down only slightly from 11.9% in 2018. The results also showed that 52% of all large and midsize employers and 78% of employers with 20,000 or more employees now steer employees to a specialty pharmacy that typically provides enhanced care management.

Annual Wage Growth Continues To Accelerate In a Tight Job Market

Annual Wage Growth Continues To Accelerate In a Tight Job Market

In the second quarter of 2019, wages for U.S. workers were 4.0% higher than at the same point in 2018, with the average wage level increasing $1.09 over the year to reach $28.54 an hour, according to the findings of a quarterly analysis of workforce trends performed by the ADP Research Institute.

The results, released on July 24, indicated that this year-on-year wage growth as of June 2019 was driven by large wage gains for workers in the manufacturing (4.4% wage growth, $29.83 hourly wage) and construction (4.4% wage growth, $28.65 hourly wage) industries. The survey also revealed that the service sector industries that contributed most to annual wage growth were information (4.2% wage growth, $41.56 hourly wage), trade (4.3% wage growth, $25.27 hourly wage), professional and business services (4.1% wage growth, $36.45 hourly wage), and leisure and hospitality services (4.2% wage growth, $17.42 hourly wage).

In addition, the analysis looked at the wage gains of job switchers as of June 2019. The findings indicated that job switchers in the information industry made the largest gains (9.7% wage growth, $41.08 hourly wage), and that job switchers in professional and business services and construction also experienced strong wage growth of 8.3% and 8.7%, respectively. However, the results showed that job holders in trade, the largest sector, saw more wage growth than workers who switched into the sector (5.2% versus 3.8%), but lagged in terms of annual employment growth (0.6%).

Broken down by region, the analysis found that the region with the highest average hourly wage rate as of June 2019 was the Northeast ($31.99), followed by the West ($30.69). Yet the findings also indicated that the highest level of annual wage growth was in the Midwest (4.5%), even though this region had the lowest hourly wage rate ($26.57) and the lowest employment growth rate (1.0%). The results further showed that job switchers in the West had the strongest average wage growth (7.3%), while workers in the South and the Northeast had the lowest wage growth (3.6%). Broken down by firm size, the analysis revealed that workers at large firms had the highest wage growth (5.1%) and employment growth (3.1%) rates.

Researchers observed that the tight labor market is leading companies to increase compensation, with businesses in most sectors having to raise their wages to retain their skilled workers. They also noted that female job holders have been experiencing larger wage gains than their male counterparts: since January 2019, female job holders registered average wage gains of 5%, while male job holders had average wage gains of 4.6%.

Employee Benefit Packages Show Signs Of Stability Despite Cost Pressures

Employee Benefit Packages Show Signs Of Stability Despite Cost Pressures

U.S. employers have largely maintained the status quo in terms of their benefit offerings in 2019, but they are also looking for opportunities to make changes to their benefit programs that lower costs while still enabling them to attract and retain talent in a competitive labor market, according to the findings of a survey published by professional services provider PwC in June 2019.

The “Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey,” which was completed in spring 2019, asked U.S. employers and employees for their views on the current and projected status of their rewards programs. The results indicated that employers expect medical costs to increase 6.5%, or 4.2% after plan changes, from 2018 to 2019. According to researchers, this trend is consistent with the actual increase of 6.2% from 2017 to 2018.

The survey also showed that employers are still seeking to reduce their long-term retirement benefit liabilities, with the shift away from defined benefit plans and toward defined contribution plans continuing. Specifically, the survey found that just 20% of employers offer a defined benefit plan; and that of those, 37% have frozen entry to these plans for new participants, up from 29% in 2018.

While 82% of the employers surveyed said they believe their current plans and practices provide the framework necessary for retirement readiness, less than half indicated that they think that their employees will be ready to retire when they want to. The findings also revealed that the prevalence of retiree medical benefits is continuing to decline, with less than one-third of employers reporting that they provide any kind of stipend, subsidy, or coverage for retiree health costs.

The survey results further suggested that employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of managing employee stress, burnout, and other mental health issues, with the share of employers saying they offer stress management programs rising sharply from 40% in 2018 to 61% in 2019. Researchers pointed out, however, that many of these employers are not incorporating their stress management programs into their overall wellness and well-being programs.

Moreover, the survey asked both employers and employees what they consider to be the most important benefit offerings or employer attributes that would attract and retain employees. A comparison of the responses showed that there is a disconnect between the views of employers and employees. For example, 86% of employees, but just 49% of employers, said they think flexibility and work/life balance options are likely to attract talent; while 74% of employees, but only 18% of employers, said they believe inclusion and diversity are important.

The survey also examined the flexibility, time off, and work/life balance benefits offered by employers. The surveyed employers reported offering full-time employees an average of 10.8 annual holidays, 9.1 paid sick leave days, and 12 paid vacation days. Around 60% of employers said they provide parental leave, with maternity leave being slightly more common than paternity leave. The work/life benefits offered most frequently by employers were found to include mothers’ rooms (89%), walking or stand-up desks (80%), free parking (78%), and on-site gym and/or fitness classes (59%).

Employers Report an Ongoing Commitment to Providing Employee Benefits

Employers Report an Ongoing Commitment to Providing Employee Benefits

While employee benefit offerings are largely holding steady in the U.S. amid a stable labor market and regulatory environment, certain benefits, such as student loan repayment programs, paternity leave, telecommuting, standing desks, and telemedicine are becoming increasingly common, according to the results of an annual survey on employee benefits released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on June 25.

In the survey, which was conducted in April 2019, 2,763 randomly selected HR professionals were asked whether over the past 12 months their organization had increased, decreased, or sustained their benefit offerings in certain categories. When the respondents were asked which benefit categories they consider most important, the leading answer was health care, followed by investment and retirement, leave, and flexible working.

The findings indicated that family-friendly and wellness benefits in particular are continuing to grow in popularity. The results showed, for example, that 60% of the employers surveyed currently offer standing desks, compared to one-quarter just five years previously. The survey also found that onsite lactation or mother’s rooms are offered by 51% of employers, up 16 percentage points from 2015.

The survey provided clear confirmation that leave and flexible working benefits are gaining traction, with telecommuting on a part-time basis now being offered by 42% of employers. The results also indicated that the share of employers offering family leave above the time required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) increased by six percentage points between 2018 and 2019. Moreover, the findings showed that although the share of employers offering paid leave benefits for new fathers went up only slightly between 2018 and 2019, it has increased 14 percentage points over the past five years.

In terms of health care benefits, the survey showed that 70% of respondents have maintained their health care benefits at existing levels in 2019, with just 20% saying they have increased benefits, and only 3% reporting that they have decreased benefits. The findings also showed that of the health plan types, preferred provider organizations (PPOs) continue to be the most popular health insurance option, with 85% of the organizations surveyed indicating that they offer PPO plans. The second-most popular plan type was found to be high-deductible health plans linked to a savings or spending account, with 59% of respondents reporting offering such plans.

Moreover, the results indicated that the share of employers providing telemedicine and telehealth services increased by 10 percentage points between 2018 and 2019. Additionally, 71% said they offer long-term disability benefits, 61% indicated that they offer short-term disability benefits, and 27% said they offer accident insurance.

While still relatively rare, the share of employers offering company-provided student loan repayment benefits was found to have risen from 4% in 2018 to 8% in 2019. According to researchers, this category is expected to gain additional traction if pending Federal legislation is approved. A further 56% of respondents said they offer tuition assistance.

In addition, the findings indicated that the share of companies offering relocation lump-sum payments increased by six percentage points between 2018 and 2019. Researchers noted, however, that while housing and relocation benefits were once commonly provided by employers, they are now offered by less than one-third of the organizations surveyed.

Small Businesses Provide Employee Benefits to Recruit and Retain Talent

Small Businesses Provide Employee Benefits to Recruit and Retain Talent

As their employee numbers grow, small businesses increasingly seek to offer a competitive compensation package that includes comprehensive benefits, including health benefits, retirement benefits, family leave, and paid time off, according to the findings of a recent survey of small business owners and managers conducted by business-to-business ratings and review firm Clutch.

The results of the survey of 529 owners and managers of small businesses in the U.S. (defined as having one to 500 employees) were released on April 18. Respondents were asked about their benefit plans for 2019.

The findings indicated that nearly half (47%) of the small businesses surveyed offer benefits, and that businesses are significantly more likely to offer benefits as they hire more employees. For example, while just 32% of businesses with 2-10 employees said they offer benefits, 68% of companies with 11-50 employees and 76% of firms with more than 50 employees said they provide benefits.

The results also showed that of the small businesses surveyed that offer benefits, 69% provide health benefits, 52% offer retirement benefits, 48% provide family leave, 45% offer paid time off (PTO), 33% provide in-office benefits, and 17% offer student loan repayment. Of the businesses that offer PTO, 28% reported providing 11 to 15 business days off.

When asked if they plan to expand their benefits offerings in 2019, 56% of the small businesses surveyed said they intend to do so: 19% plan to begin offering PTO, 15% expect to start offering health benefits, 14% plan to start providing in-office benefits, 11% expect to begin offering retirement benefits, 11% are considering offering family leave, and 8% plan to introduce student loan repayment. Moreover, when the small businesses that intend to offer new benefits in 2019 were asked about their reasons for doing so, 30% cited employee requests, 27% said they want to reduce employee turnover, 13% said they are doing so in response to legal requirements, and 9% indicated they are doing so as a result of union negotiations.

When asked about their strategies for gaining access to human resource services, 25% of the small businesses surveyed said they have full-time, in-house HR staff; 12% reported that they have part-time, in-house HR staff; 9% said they contract with an HR consultant, 8% said they work with a professional employer organization, and 6% indicated that they work with an outsourcing service. However, 30% of the respondents admitted that they do not invest in formal HR services.

The survey also found that there is a strong association between having access to formal HR services and offering benefits: whereas 64% of respondents that reported having some level of HR services offer benefits, just 10% of the small businesses surveyed that said they lack access to formal HR services provide benefits.

From Benefit Trends Newsletter, Volume 62, Issue 6

The information contained in this newsletter is for general use, and while we believe all information to be reliable and accurate, it is important to remember individual situations may be entirely different. The information provided is not written or intended as tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. This newsletter is written and published by Liberty Publishing, Inc., Beverly, MA. Copyright © 2019 Liberty Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.