Aug 12, 2011

Last month, CoHealth welcomed Ron Leopold, MetLife’s vice president, U.S. business, to our monthly tweet chat. We discussed MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends and the future of employer-provided health coverage (see recap) and left quite a few unanswered questions. Ron graciously answered many of the questions from our CoHealth community.

Question: Do benefits have an impact on employee loyalty today?

Ron Leopold: Every year the MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends reinforces the fact that there’s a strong correlation between benefits satisfaction and employee loyalty. The most recent study showed that employees who are satisfied with their benefits are three times as likely to express a strong sense of loyalty to their employers.

What’s interesting is when we look at which benefits are most likely to be loyalty drivers and compare employee and employer responses. As you’d expect, health care and retirement benefits are extremely important to loyalty. But a closer look shows that 59 percent of surveyed employees cite nonmedical benefits such as dental, disability, life insurance, etc., as very important to feelings of loyalty. Only 37 percent of employers rank these benefits as important to loyalty and retention drivers. The impact of nonmedical benefits— which are pennies on the dollar compared to medical insurance — is often underestimated by employers.

Employees “skittish” about financial security, jobs

Q: Have wellness tools been tested as a retention tool?

RL: The MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends shows that employees who participate in wellness programs are more likely to be loyal to their employers. and loyal employees are more likely to remain with the company.

Q: Employee loyalty, trust and satisfaction went down in your study. Did anything improve?

RL: I wish we’d seen more improvement, but employees are still skittish about their financial security and their jobs. We did see some uptick, however, when it comes to benefits communications. (Some) 36 percent of employees noted improvements in the benefits communications they receive from their employers compared to 33 percent the previous year. So, employers are making headway in “selling” their benefits more effectively, which in turn means a better return on their benefits investment. When it comes to retirement readiness, however, 52 percent are behind where they hoped to be by this time.

Q: I’ve noticed a focus on prevention, which I think is different from wellness. Is this a trend?

RL: As a physician I know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most of the chronic diseases — the diseases that account for three-quarters of our health care spending — can be prevented and slowed in three effective ways: promotion of a healthy diet, encouragement of more exercise, and measures to reduce stress. Programs that encourage these actions can be considered prevention and are the key to wellness goals.

Health coverage the biggest employer concern

Q: As employers look to control costs, where are they focused?

RL: I think health coverage continues to be the big driver of benefits costs and, therefore, the biggest employer concern. According to a recent study from PWC’s Health Research Institute, employer health care costs are expected to rise by 8.5 percent in 2012. This is a big and obvious target. MetLife’s survey suggests that for many employers, there’s an ongoing effort to shift costs to employees and reduce costs through health plan design changes. There’s also an increasing focus on wellness, including financial wellness, to mitigate employee health costs and time off work.

Q: Is there a way to balance an employer’s budget and employees’ needs?

RL: Employers and their advisors are looking to voluntary benefits and other employee-paid solutions to bridge the gap between employee needs and employer budget limitations. The study showed that many employees are willing to pay for benefits with their own money rather than lose the benefits they value and the choice they want.

Q: How was social media defined in your study? If they’re not using social media, are employers offering information digitally or online?

RL: Our definition was rather broad. It included videos, blogs, mobile content and podcasts. When given this definition, 29 percent of employers said they used social media and 74 percent acknowledge that it provides a convenient way for employees to obtain benefits information. We didn’t specifically ask employers if they were offering information online.

We want to thank Ron again for joining our July chat and for answering our remaining questions. our next CoHealth Chat is Wednesday, August 17, noon ET.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.