As Your Workforce Becomes Flexible, So Should Your Benefits

The workforce of the future is increasingly external and, for HR managers, the need to address the healthcare benefits gap between their external workforce and full-time internal employees has already begun.

Some name brand organizations already are making strides. Why? Because one in five jobs in the U.S. is now held by an external worker. In a recent study, healthcare was cited as their #1 concern. It was cited by more freelancers than any other issue, including unpredictable income. Hourly workers also share the concern. A separate study revealed that 56% of hourly workers say they would consider taking a reasonable pay cut to have better health benefits.

Flexible options for a flexible workforce

 By 2028, non-traditional, flexible talent (freelance and temporary workers) is predicted to account for 24% more of departmental headcount as compared to today. As more people shift from internal, full-time to flexible positions, HR managers will need to ensure they have the ability to attract and retain this critical workforce.

The majority (59%) of HR managers in the US use flexible talent, and many are creating programs designed to build long-term, productive relationships with these workers. Organizations are exploring how to offer affordable health benefits, such as virtual primary care, as well as paid leave, 401(k) savings plans, and life and disability insurance. Starbucks announced its program several years ago to cover tuition for its part- and full-time employees to earn an online bachelor’s degree. Other large employers including Costco, Chilpotle, UPS, Lowe’s Home Improvement, REI and Trader Joe’s also provide a mix of benefits to part-time employees — giving them a competitive edge.

Technology’s role

 Technologies are driving the development of more cost-effective and flexible benefits solutions, and HR managers are exploring ways to deliver virtual services that support employees and address pain points. Financial wellness programs, for example, are provided virtually and have helped workers manage debt and housing concerns for more than a decade.

For a number of years HR managers have looked to telemedicine as a flexible, accessible solution to rising healthcare costs, but with varying degrees of success. Full-time employees have been slow to choose telemedicine over traditional doctor, urgent care or emergency room visits, even when they are more costly — in part simply because old habits die hard.

However, as workforces become increasingly flexible and mobile, comprehensive virtual primary care is offering HR managers a cost-effective solution that fits the needs of their organization and this employee base: valuable anytime/anywhere access to care can support them and their families in staying healthy and productive.

Is telemedicine an effective alternative? See “Why Telemedicine Won’t Save Your Company a Dime.”

Pay for what’s used and needed

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There is no rule that employers must offer all types of workers the exact same benefits — and no research telling HR managers that all types of workers want the same benefits. HR managers can consider:

  • Tailoring benefits to meet targeted needs of specific worker groups,
  • Offering external workers the option to select what they need, rather than offering an all-or-nothing approach, and
  • Negotiating options with providers and third-parties to only pay for benefits when employees sign up.

As more pay-as-you-go options roll out for services such as satellite TV, phones, car insurance, and even pension plans, HR managers can take note of innovative programs from other industries and adapt the approach to their growing external workforce.

Changing workforce, changing needs

In the past, organizations have worked with external workers mainly for cost-savings, as well as the ability to quickly increase and reduce staffing. But as the workforce changes, the rules for navigating these relationships will require a different approach.

Helping to find and implement solutions that extend affordable healthcare options to an external workforce is not solely good for the bottom line, it’s good for an organization’s overall morale and the greater community. HR professionals — who have the best view of the needs of workers — have the opportunity to help transform access and improve the lives of millions.

In less than 10 years, external workers will be a significant part of the US workforce. Forward-thinking organizations can aspire to be an employer of choice. Talented professionals and people with specialized skills will always be in demand and will demand the benefits they need.

Sean Mehra is chief strategy officer and co-founder at HealthTap. He holds inventions in the diverse fields of health informatics, AI, oral drug delivery, genetic testing, urinary incontinence, and polymer nanocomposites. Sean earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS in Biomedical Engineering and Pre-Medicine from Yale University.

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